By: Marina Salsbury
One of the main purposes of the criminal justice system is to keep criminals off the street so that the public will remain safe. What people tend to forget is that another major goal of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate criminals so that when they’re released the public will still remain safe. Rehabilitation isn’t an easy process and isn’t always suitable or possible for every inmate, but with the right techniques, it can be accomplished for a great many. Typical rehabilitation practices include therapy, spiritual guidance, community service, and education.
Research shows education is one of the most effective ways to rehabilitate criminals. It gives inmates a new purpose in life and may change the attitudes that landed them in prison in the first place. It also makes it a lot easier for inmates to find jobs upon release, a major benefit considering former inmates have a terrible time finding work after prison due to employers’ unwillingness to hire workers with criminal records.
Often the chances of finding a job can be greatly increased by proving one was disciplined enough to pursue education while still behind bars. The skills and knowledge acquired also give inmates the ability to work in a larger variety of positions. Released inmates who are able to obtain employment are far less likely to return to prison than those who remain unemployed. According to University of Missouri policy analyst Jake Cronin, inmates who earned GEDs in prison were 33 percent less likely to return to prison. These numbers may be even higher for inmates who earn college degrees through online courses or prison-based programs.
One surprising benefit of college courses in prison is that they actually save taxpayers money. This research flies in the face of the objection that providing education to prisoners wastes money. A 2009 report from the Correctional Association of New York revealed that the 1,200 inmates then taking part in 69 prison programs across the United States were far less likely to return to prison. Since it costs as much as $40,000 annually to house an inmate in prison, any measure that will prevent former inmates from returning to prison is a worthwhile endeavor.
Unfortunately, college education is not available in all US prisons. Some people believe criminals forfeit their right to education when they break laws. Some facilities simply don’t have the necessary resources for providing college-level education to inmates. GED prison programs are far more common than college programs, as they tend to be less expensive to run. Some prisons allow inmates to pursue college degrees online, but usually under close supervision.
On the other hand, some schools themselves offer programs specifically designed for getting inmates educated. Boston University has a prison education program, from which over 200 degrees have been granted to inmates from MCI-Norfolk, MCI-Framingham, and the Bay State Correctional Center. Other notable schools with prison education programs include Harvard, Bard College, Georgetown University, and Wesleyan University.
The overwhelming body of research shows providing college education for inmates is one of the most effective means of lowering recidivism rates. Nevertheless, at present most inmates don’t have access to college-level programs. As more research comes out highlighting the benefits of college education in prison, chances are politicians will find providing these opportunities more worthwhile.
Marina Salsbury planned on becoming a teacher since high school, but found her way instead intoonline writing after college. She writes around the Web about everything from education to exercise. She can be reached by e-mail here.