Effectiveness of Education in Prisons

Overview of Education in Prisons

In this era, knowledge is vital to the success of a person’s life and the transformation of a country. People acquire knowledge through education. Knowledge is the power that helps in overcoming obstacles, making life decisions and instilling winning mindsets in individuals. One of the major contributors to crime is ignorance. It strips a person of dignity and makes them to resort to unorthodox means in order to survive. Education is a fundamental tool in changing the lives of prisoners in society. It forms the basis for rehabilitation and criminal penalty. Hence, penal institutions should prioritize eradication of illiteracy by helping prisoners to resume their education. There is evidence to suggest that this reduces recidivism rates. The acquisition of skills, mastering work ethics and learning a trade or a profession helps a prisoner to increase chances of being a better citizen once outside prison (Piché 2008).

History: the case of United States

Education in prisons started in Walnut Street Jail in the late 18th century. Lobbyists for the expansion of the program to other institutions did not yield much as many people were still against it. This is because people perceived this education as serving to help bad people in society. At round 1820, the inmate prison education lost support almost across the board on similar grounds. However, late into the 19th century many people had started seeing the importance of educating inmates. This was because of the studies conducted in that field and the increasing rates of recidivism that concerned the United States government (Policy Report 2012). This support was not enough until 1965 when inmates became eligible for Pell Grants. The Federal Pell Grants provides funding to needs-based students to further their education. Unlike a loan, these grants need not be repaid. By 1982, close to 90% of all prison institutions were offering higher education programs. The prisons department was eligible for less than 1% of the total Pell Grants. However, despite the success of the Pell Grant funding in terms of the subsequent uptake from prisoners, the Clinton administration revoked Federal Pell Grant funding for inmates through the Violent Crimes Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994. This led to massive decline in prison education programs (U.S Department of Education 2012). By 2001, there were less than a dozen education programs for inmates across United States. Consequently, recidivism rates increased exponentially and the number of prisoners increased by over 50% despite fewer crime incidences. In 2008, the administration of Bush passed a bill that sought to find different rehabilitative avenues for ex-incarcerated. This is following experts’ belief that the United States prisons system was more punitive than rehabilitative. This trend is true world over with many countries starting to appreciate the need for education programs in prisons only recently (Department of Justice 2011).

Finding Jobs

Once prisoners have acquired particular skills and they are out of prison, chances of getting a job are increased. This reduces chances of recidivism. Among the many predictors for an inmate’s chances of returning to prison, unemployment emerge tops. Hence, with the right skills for an equal chance to secure a job, an inmate is less likely to continue with crime. Employment reduces recidivism rates for ex-inmates with full time employment by half as compared to ex-inmates without jobs (Science Daily 2011).

Society presents the biggest obstacle for inmates to get jobs. People generally have a negative attitude towards employing individuals with a crime record. This reduces chances of equal treatment while looking for a job. It is the responsibility of the government to educate and sensitize citizens on the importance of accepting rehabilitated prisoners into society.

The government also plays a role in making employability of ex-inmates hard. This is because of the readily available records that employers can get concerning almost every individual. Both state and federal governments should delete some of this information or have a favorable account of the individual while in prison to make the employer to have faith in the ex-inmate. The government may also formulate a program, which allows it to employ trained inmates once they are out. This will serve as an example to the private sector, which will follow in kind.

Family and Economic Contributions

Many pundits ask one basic question: why should we use taxpayers’ money to educate law-breaking individuals free while law-abiding citizens pay hefty fees to acquire this education? Many people believe that this is pampering offenders and a gross mockery to justice. However, they forget that these individuals will finally get out prison. They fail to reason based on what they are going to do once they are out of prison and into a society that is skewed towards college graduates.

According to government’s statistics (in United States for example) close to 1 million prisoners are released annually. Most of them offend again and return to prison together with first time offenders. The United States government spends over $30 billion to construct prison facilities. If the government were to reduce this recidivism rates by half, it would save so much. Education provides individuals with confidence in life and an alternative from crime. Once educated, a prisoner can rely solely on self. A prisoner is able to raise a family better when they have equal chances for the available opportunities. However, this is not possible in a case the opportunities are skewed. Once an individual raises their family well, chances of a generational circus of crime are grossly reduced. In the end, this is beneficial to both the society and the economy.

Education in prisons provides better ways of utilizing the free time that inmates have in prison. This free time may be used for planning other evil deeds and making life for other prisoners and superintendants hard. Provisions of education bring some order as prisoners are expected to be at particular centers at particular times.

A study of close to 20 empirical studies suggests that higher education reduces the possibility for re incarceration of prisoners from both genders. Without any education on average 80% of the prisoners who are released from prison, return there within five years. If they were to be educated, the rate of recidivism will reduce according to the level of education achieved. The higher the education level, the lower the chances of returning to prison. For prisoners who attain a bachelor’s degree around 6% are re incarcerated, for those who attain an AA degree around 14% are re-incarcerated, for those who attain a Masters degree, there is a zero chance of re incarceration. It is also crucial to note that while in prison, these convicts are always in constant torment and a dangerous environment. This may be transferred to society (Geranios 2011).

It follows that educating prisoners brings about safety in a society. This is because most of the prisoners are normally between the age of 22 and 45. This is an active age, which is characterized by high energy. If it is not well utilized, there is real danger. Reduction in the number of people in prison means that the government devotes fewer resources in building and sustaining these facilities. This reduces recurrent expenditure. Additionally, empowering these citizens makes them productive. Hence, it increases their purchasing power, which bolsters economic performance. It also helps them to contribute to the gross domestic product. Overall, this is healthy to the economy of a country.


Another school of thought suggests that the justice system perpetrates the problem instead of solving it. Consequently, over a third of the minorities lack education because at a time when they are supposed to be obtaining an education they are sent to prison. Once they are outside, the time for them to attend college is gone. Hence, the justice system needs to be overhauled to ensure that it does not punish. Rather, it should find a way that the perpetrator pays for their social misdeeds without denying them a life. This makes it worse because these are minority groups. Additionally, this does do not frequently happen with white males. This is because majorities are incarcerated at the age between 35 and 45. At this age, a person has completed college and started a family (Heather 2008). Hence, there will be little sentiment when the person gets out of prison. This is not the case with African Americans. In late 2010, a report commissioned by the government showed that close to 12% of African American children has a mother in prison (Black Demographics 2012). The percentage is almost double of the children who do not have fathers in their young upbringing. Judging by this sample, it shows that prisons disintegrate close to 30% of minorities’ families. According to psychologists and sociologist, this creates a cycle of incompleteness in children. In the end, the problem of irritability, desperation and frustration creeps and the cycle of crime and anti social behavior leads the minorities’ kids in prison. This creates a generational problem (Black Demographics 2012).

Why Education Fails

Despite continued emphasis on education in prisons, the level of recidivism remains ominously high. This does not mean that some positive approaches to make prisoners better do not exist. However, it is impossible for such programs to bear fruits considering the constant negative view of prisoners across society. Additionally, the environments in which these prisoners operate make them to gain experiences that only serve to increase chances of recidivism. Additionally, too crowded, noisy and extremely dangerous prisons are not conducive for learning (Associated Press 2006).

There are fierce critics that do not find it in order to educate prisoners using taxpayers’ money. Additionally, they argue that it is not good to act soft on law since it will encourage a society where offenders will constantly benefit from their misdeeds and hence encourage more crimes. Education in itself, the critics suggest, will encourage the offenders to engage in more high profile crimes of white-collar nature. There is also an argument that there is no direct relationship between crime reduction and education levels. Otherwise, there would be fewer crimes in developed countries unlike developing countries. In contrast, United States has the highest number of inmates in the world and it is one of the most developed countries. In fact, some critics argue that educating offenders makes a country to have brighter and manipulative criminals (Erisman 2005).

Considering the stringent budgets that federal governments, governments and county/state governments operate in, prison education is always shelved to give way to more pressing needs. This is unless it is proven not expendable. However, the value of an education to prisoners cannot be measured in money or taxes. This is because 90% of the prisoners will eventually live among us. It is not equally good to live next to unskilled, uneducated and potentially dangerous individuals with no hope as neighbors (Erisman 2005).


A continued incarceration of social and criminal offenders has not deterred crime. With the world population increasing by day, more and more people are finding themselves in prisons. Most of them are first time offenders and a considerably large number are recidivists. Because of this trend, it is logical to employ the use of education, especially higher education, as the social and fiscal alternative in tackling this menace. There are far reaching positive effects of education on an inmate’s character in and outside prison. These effects have wide social and fiscal benefits. Education in itself is an avenue to employment after prison. With private and public partnership, this can bear many fruits in the overall societal life. It reduces chances of an offender going back to me crime and makes offenders responsible to their families. It also increases self-esteem, self-confidence, enables them to become role models and most critically increase their options in the larger society (Erisman 2005).

Reference List

Associated Press, 2006, Hispanic, Black Inmates Fight Anew In L.A. Jail, Web.

Black Demographics, 2012, African Americans and Crime: Incarceration, Web.

Department of Justice, 2011, Justice across USA, Web.

Erisman, J 2005, Learning To Reduce Recidivism: A 50-State Analysis of Postsecondary Correctional Education Policy, Institute for Higher Education Policy, New York.

Geranios, N 2011, Most Inmates in State Prison are Violent Offenders, Web. 

Heather, M 2008, Is the Criminal-Justice System Racist?, Web.

Piché, J 2008, Barriers to Knowing Inside: Education in Prisons and Education on Prisons, Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp 45-57.

Policy Report, 2012, Locked up and Locked out: an Educational Perspective on the U.S. Prison Population, Web.

Science Daily, 2011, Prison Education Programs Reduce Inmate Prison Return Rate, Study Shows, Web. 

U.S Department of Education, 2012, Federal Pell Grant Program, Web.

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