Report: Prisoners Less Likely To Reoffend After Education Behind Bars

Broad analysis of data says that studious prisoners were 43 percent less likely to return to crime

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Prisoners who obtain some form of education while behind bars are less likely to return to crime and more likely to gain employment once they are released, according to a broad new analysis of data.

The Rand Corporation, which conducts research to aid policymakers, presented the findings of their recent report on correctional education on Capitol Hill Tuesday, confirming researchers’ long-held belief that broadening access to education such as high school equivalency and post-secondary education programs can reduce an ex-convict’s likelihood of returning to jail.

The Rand study compiled the results of existing data from 50 studies of education programs within correctional facilities, and concluded that inmates who had taken part in an education program while behind bars were 43% less likely to be sent back to prison than those who did not. The study also said prisoners who receive an education while in jail were 13% more likely to obtain employment, but cautioned that there was insufficient research on post-incarceration employment rates.

Around 95% of U.S. prisoners are released, but many lack the education and skills necessary to properly reintegrate into their community, which has contributed to historically high recidivism rates. Statistics from the Bureau of Justice found that 51.8% of people released from 15 state prisons in 1994 returned to prison within three years. A Pew research survey found that over 40% of those released in 1999 and 2004 were back in prison within three years.

Rand estimates that for every $1 spent on providing educational training, states could cut incarceration costs by $5. “The debate is no longer about whether or not correctional education is effective or whether it’s cost effective,” said Lois Davis, a senior policy researcher at Rand. “We really should be focusing on the gaps in our knowledge and the data to inform policymaking, as well as where there are opportunities to move forward.”

And large gaps do still exist. There is little comprehensive data on how effective education programs are in juvenile facilities, where inmates have a right to an education, and little research on the impact education programs have on employment outcomes, not just a person’s likelihood of returning to prison.

“Recidivism is obviously important but it is not the only thing,” Jesse Jannetta of the Urban Institute told TIME.  “Investing in things like prison education is a way to not just have people not reoffend, but have them be successful wage earners and go back and make biggest possible contribution to their communities.”