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The Benefits of Higher Education in Prison

By Sarah Hubert

FPEP class in Summer 2019

If you’re reading this article, you probably already have an interest in higher education in prison. Maybe you found us on social media, maybe you talked to us at a book drive or event, or maybe you have a loved one who has gone through our education programs. That being said, you might not be fully aware of all of the reasons to support higher ed for the incarcerated. If you decide to talk to a friend or family member about FPEP, it’s important to be able to articulate why the project is important and necessary. We have compiled a list of a few talking points to get you started.

Reduce Recidivism

Studies have shown that access to higher education lowers recidivism by around 46% (Institute for Higher Education Policy). The Rand Corporation estimates 43%. This implies that if people are able to participate in educational programs, they will re-enter society ready to work and less likely to re-offend.

First Chance

“One important point that emerged [at Department of Education listening sessions] is the fact that for many incarcerated people, access to education in prison was not a second chance: it was a first chance.” (Vera Institute) Education is an opportunity to make real change in the lives of people who truly need it. To be given an education is a right that many people do not have access to for a variety of reasons. Prison education is one way to reach a population who has been historically underserved.

Mental Health Benefits

Education assists people in more ways than just preparing them for re-entry. “A student said that being in a learning cohort has helped him feel less alone” (US Government Accountability Office). People working in prisons have commented on the support groups and mentorship that appear when incarcerated people have a common goal and education they are working towards. This can further help people in their process of reforming.

More Productive Employees

Studies show that “incarcerated students who participated in a postsecondary program while in prison were more likely to find employment after release, work more hours, or earn higher wages than those who did not participate,” (US Government Accountability Office). In other words, people who have had access to education are not only more likely to find employment, but also to be better at their jobs. People who are educated will be more productive members of society.

Cheaper for Society

Studies show how much money is saved when ex-offenders are educated and re-enter society ready to work. For example, “cost analysis in Washington State found that correctional education had a return-on-investment of $19.62 for participants and taxpayers for each dollar spent, and vocational education in prison had a return-on-investment of $13.21 for each dollar spent.” (US Government Accountability Office). The cost to incarcerate someone is huge, so if people are not re-offending and instead contributing to society, everyone benefits financially.

Prisons Become Safer

Studies show that not only will people be less likely to re-offend when they are released, but that their behavior also improves within prison. This helps keep others safe. Another student interviewed by the US Government Accountability Office said that “time spent in class helps inmates be less idle and therefore less likely to engage in negative behavior.” When people have something to work towards and to keep them busy, there is less of a reason to misbehave.

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