Higher Education in the U.S. Prison System

Watch this short video to learn how's online courses can benefit incarcerated men and women in secure facilities and reduce recidivism.

We asked six people about education in secure facilities: an attorney, a high school physics teacher, a systems analyst, a special education teacher, a project manager and a parole case manager. They understood that correctional education isn't accessible.

'I would imagine that it's not really accessible,' the project manager said.

'I know that some prisons do, and some prisons don't,' added the special education teacher, 'and it's there, but it's not always there.'

In 1994, the number of correctional higher-ed programs dropped from 350 to 8.

'From what I've read, it's slim to none,' the systems analyst said. 'I believe the percentage figures are in the single digits.'

By 2004, only 5% of prisoners had access to postsecondary education.

'Either it's nonexistent, or they just don't know of the resources available to them,' explained the parole case manager.

They understood that incarceration is expensive.

'I would say an individual would probably be in the hundreds of thousands to incarcerate,' according to the attorney.

Added the systems analyst, 'Well over $100,000 a year per inmate.'

'Probably between $30,000 and $50,000,' estimated the special education teacher.

In New York City, the cost of incarceration of one individual is $168,000 per year.

'When people don't have any way out, they'll keep doing the same thing,' the systems analyst said.

Added the special education teacher, 'Once you've been in jail, it's hard to find a job that will hire you.'

Education in secure facilities reduces recidivism.

recidivism (n) \ri-si-d-vi-zm\: relapse into criminal behavior

'Well, the problem is there is a negative stigma,' the systems analyst noted. 'If you mess up, the black mark on you is essentially a scarlet letter. Recovering from that is almost impossible.'

Recidivism drops by 66% for bachelor's degree recipients and almost entirely for master's degree recipients.

'(Providing education in secure facilities) would actually save (prisons) money in the long run,' the attorney said. 'It would create a safer community.'

'There really aren't very many options for someone who doesn't have education,' added the high school physics teacher, 'considering someone who does have education still doesn't have very many options. I can't imagine what it would be like without an education.'

People understand the problems of recidivism and incarceration.

Experts prove the solution is access to higher education.

'I've seen, in five and half years, so many people come and go and come and go, and education is definitely the one thing that helps keep youth out of the system,' said Starcia Ague, program coordinator at the University of Washington.

Added the parole case manager, 'A woman in particular who had the opportunity to start out at a junior college and take classes. She successfully got off of parole, and she has been working and leading a crime-free life for about a year and a half now, which is a long time.'

'You know some people can say, 'Why are you actually doing all this education at facilities?' and I always point to the recent Rand Corporation document that's findings state that recidivism is greatly reduced by education,' said Frank Martin, education administrator with the Oregon Youth Authority. 'As a matter of fact, if you spend $1 on education, you save five from that person coming back into the system … and they can actually be a part of society in a positive way.'

Learn more about how you can use courses in secure facilities.

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