In estimated residents in Wyoming and Vermont

In 2016 the United
States incarcerated 1,526,800 prisoners, not including youth offenders, in
state and federal prisons (Carson, E. A., & Anderson, E., 2016). To put
this number in perspective, there were more prisoners in the United States in 2016
than there were estimated residents in Wyoming and Vermont combined (Census.gov).
Out of 404,678 state prisoners released in 2005, 76.6% were arrested again
within a 5-year span (Durose, M., Cooper, A., &
Snyder, H., 2014).  Recidivism, or
the return to criminal activities, rates are how the “effectiveness of
corrections is usually measured” (Esperian, J.H., 2010, p. 320). Socioeconomic
status and the educational level of the individual are the two factors that are
often attributed to recidivism (Esperian, J.H., 2010, p. 320). Reducing the
rate of recidivism would benefit society and those being incarcerated. Education
is the vital component to reducing recidivism.

            The
problem with education begins with America’s youth. Puzzanchera states,
“Juvenile crime accounted for 16% of all violent crime arrests and 26% of
property crime arrests in 2007” (Lancaster, C., Balkin, R.S., Garcia, R,
& Valarezo. A., 2011, p. 488). America’s education system is failing
children. Incarnated juveniles have literacy skills that are “at least one
standard deviation or two years behind their peers in public school…Other
reports suggest that the deficit might be more pronounced with a majority of
ninth graders reading at the fourth-grade level” (Macomber, D., Skiba, T.,
Blackmon, J., Esposito, E., Hart, L., Mambrino, E., Richie, T., &
Grigorenko, E. L., 2010, p. 225). This statistic suggests that America has more
than left children behind.

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            For
children to find and maintain employment as adults, they must have a good
educational foundation. According to Macomber et al. (2010), Education that
leads to employment is “is viewed, unequivocally, as the most powerful tool in
recidivism reduction” (p.224). Dr Thomas Blomberg emphasizes that
incarcerated youth can be characterized as “lost educational opportunities,”
and in his testimony to congress in March 2009, Dr Blomberg shared how teaching
young people is a “tremendous cost savings to the public and rescue of
troubled youth” (Macomber et al. 2010, p. 248).

Lost educational
opportunities are a loss to society not just the youth. When the youth are not
educated properly and become adult offenders the problem grows. This is
especially true since the estimated cost of adult offenders that were once
juvenile offenders cost society an estimated $1.5 to $1.8 million each year (Lancaster
et al. 2011). In 2006, juvenile offenders had a recidivism rate of 55% in the
first 12 months (Macomber et al. 2010). With a rate this high, society must
evaluate the institution of education.

             After knowing the low levels of education in
the juvenile corrections population, it comes as no surprise that 60% of adult
prison inmates cannot read above a sixth-grade level (Esperian, J.H., 2010, p.
320). A percentage of 60% is a staggering proportion and deserves to be
restated. It translates as 916,080 prisoners out of the 1,526,800 incarcerated
in 2016, prisoners could not read beyond a sixth-grade level. Prisoners in
America continuously test below the rest of the nation with regards to
educational attainment and literacy. Most inmates do not have the basic
education needed to function or obtain employment. These factors considered, it
is not surprising that so many prisoners return within five years. Based on a
recidivism rate of 76.6%, 1,169,529 prisoners will reoffend out of those
incarcerated in 2016 (Durose, M., Cooper, A., & Snyder, H., 2014). This is
a viscous cycle for the prisoner and society. Educating prisoners so they can
achieve financially stability through employment is essential to reducing
recidivism.

            It
is proven that the higher the level of education, the lower the chances
prisoners will reoffend. According the National Correctional Association
(2009), “Inmates who earn an AA/AS are 70% less likely to recidivate than
those who do not complete a program, a GED, 25% less likely to recidivate, and
those who earn a vocational certificate, 14.6% less likely to recidivate” (Esperian,
J.H., 2010, p. 324)). A prisoner who attains the Baccalaureate level of
education has a recidivism rate of 5.6% and a rate of 0% if they attain a
Masters level degree (from a U.S. Department of Justice report, Esperian, J.H.,
2010, p. 324). The clear takeaway is that the more educated a prisoner becomes,
the less likely they are to reoffend and the more productive they become in
society.

            Dawkins
& McAuliff (2008) state, “While the value of education has been well
documented for improving the income levels and overall well-being of the
general population, the benefits of higher education for inmates are even more
dramatic” (p. 1). Everyone deserves to be educated. There is strong
resistance to providing education to those who have violated the law and
others. One of the main reasons society fights back is cost, especially when
they may want to see funds going to other programs. However, it is apparent
from the research that providing education would also reduce cost in the long
term. Research by the Pew Center found that a reduction of prison inmates by
1.6% over the course of 1 year, saved the state $38 million dollars and helped
avoid prison construction costs of $1.2 billion dollars (Esperian, J.H., 2010,
p. 332). Cost is always a factor when government is trying to find a way to
fund programs. However, funding education is a better option that funding
prisons. It may seem like an extra cost up front, but the savings in the long
term makes up more than the difference. A new way of looking at the issue is
overdue, and Nevada is trying something different with Senate Bill 398. According
to the Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, Senate Bill 398 could reduce the
state’s prison population and save millions of dollars by creating a two year
“intermediate sanction” pilot program for low-risk violators, as well
as, people whose crimes are linked to alcohol and drugs (Esperian, H., 2010, p.
332-333). The bill mandates life skills and rehabilitative programs to be offered
to about 400 participants a year who would stay an average of six months, and
the program could save the state more than $34 million over five years (Esperian,
H., 2010, p. 332-333). Offering programs with the potential for high results
and reduced costs, it is hard for people to argue with the expenditure.

            An
example that looks at the cost savings of educating people versus incarcerating
them can be found by viewing at the state of Washington’s spending on each per
year. In Washington state in 2016, each prisoner cost $35,884.56 (Department of
Corrections Washington State, 2017). In the 2014/2015 school year, Washington State
spent $10,937 dollars per year on average, per student (State of Washington,
2016). In comparison, Washington State could educate a child for 3.29 years for
same cost as housing one prisoner for one year, or pay for 13 years of
education for what 4 years of prison cost. The savings is substantial and diminishes
the cost argument.  

            America
is responsible for educating its citizens. If the nation failed to educate prisoners
when they were children, it is still the nation’s responsibility to educate them
as adults. The high price of a prison stay far outweighs the cost of an education,
not to mention the cost to society. Education must be a national priority, not
only for children, but also for the adults the system failed. 

 

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