Last week, Families Against Mandatory Minimums released a new report, “Using Time to Reduce Crime: Federal Prisoner Survey Results Show Ways to Reduce Recidivism,” which presented the first-ever independent survey of federal prisoners. Over 2,000 inmates responded to questions about the educational and vocational training programs available to them, and their responses detail the myriad deficiencies that plague our correctional facilities.
The report found that:
- The quality and availability of educational programs across prisons vary greatly, and the most widely attended classes often lack rigor and substance.
- Only 2% of survey respondents had access to computers to complete educational coursework.
- Most prisoners would respond to incentives to participate in recidivism-reducing programs.
What we see is a yearning on the part of prisoners to participate in education programs, but a system that is ill-equipped to provide them with the tools needed to succeed post-release. “Roughly 94 percent of federal prisoners are going to go home one day. If they leave smarter, sober, and job-ready, they will be much more likely to thrive—and our country will be safer and more prosperous,” said FAMM President Kevin Ring. “Unfortunately, our survey found that the federal government is failing to make recidivism-reducing programming available to all prisoners who need it. President Trump’s new budget proposal, which slashes the Bureau of Prisons’ staff and corrections officers, will only make the problem worse.”
To address these issues, the Bureau of Prisons should invest in inmate education initiatives, and allow prisoners greater access to technologies such as computer tablets. Our goal should be to ensure that these inmates are able to succeed in the real world, that they aren’t forced to return to a life of crime. By providing inmates with tablets that offer educational programming, we can help ensure that inmates are well-positioned to live a meaningful life after their release. Technological literacy is vital in a world permeated with electronics, and many prisoners face a technology gap when they leave prison, especially those serving lengthy sentences. Many find themselves unable to search for jobs or download items. However, “Modern technology, combined with proper assessment tools, evidence based management and credentialed content, provides the opportunity to educate those who are motivated to re-enter society so they can have a future that is more beneficial than a life of crime,” said Dr. Turner Nashe, senior vice president of education services at Global Tel*Link, a provider of corrections-grade tablets and educational services.
While it costs money up front to implement education initiatives, taxpayers ultimately benefit when we invest in inmate education. There are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country, and in 2012, taxpayers paid $39 billion to incarcerate these individuals. The cost of incarceration is so high because inmates frequently find themselves stuck in a cycle of incarceration, rearrest, and return to prison. A National Institute of Justice study found that within three years of release, 67.8% of released prisoners were rearrested.
However, if we can break that cycle, and prevent inmates from returning to prison, we can provide relief to taxpayers who are forced shoulder the costs associated with incarceration. Education offers one solution to breaking this cycle. Data shows that:
- With a high school education – the recidivism rate drops to 55%.
- With vocational training – the recidivism rate drops to 30%.
- With an associate’s degree – the recidivism rate drops to 13.7%.
- With a bachelor’s degree – the recidivism rate drops to 5.6%.
- With a master’s degree – The recidivism rate is so low, it’s effectively 0%.
It’s simple – if we invest in a solution that is proven to prevent inmates from returning to prison, taxpayers will not have to shoulder the burden of incarceration costs.
Investing in inmate education isn’t just the moral thing to do – it’s a cost-effective solution to our bloated corrections system that can save U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars annually. The Families Against Mandatory Minimum’s report is a stark reminder that our prison system is failing to make recidivism-reducing programming available for inmates, and as a result, the recidivism rate in America remains disturbingly high.