Prison Education

July 2017 / Abell Reports / Criminal Justice and Addiction
image of male teacher in classroom
Maximizing the potential for employment and successful community reintegration.

Re-entering society after incarceration presents a formidable set of challenges. In addition to reconnecting with family and community, successful transition after imprisonment requires a person not only to avoid criminal activity, but also to obtain and sustain employment—or continue along an education pathway. Those best able to navigate this process have developed skills and credentials while incarcerated that are valued by potential employers, training programs, and colleges. In fact, a substantial body of evidence indicates that formerly incarcerated individuals—sometimes referred to as returning citizens—who receive high-quality educational services and supports re-enter their communities, obtain jobs, and become contributing members of society.

In “Prison Education: Maximizing the Potential for Employment and Successful Community Reintegration,” professors Peter Leone and Pamela Wruble examine the current landscape of correctional education in Maryland, current barriers to opportunity, and best practices from across the country.

Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spent over $1 billion for prison operations in FY2016. At that time, the state’s recidivism rate was 40.5%, suggesting that many of those released were unprepared for the transition back to the community. Yet, research shows that well-designed prison education programs have the potential to reduce recidivism, create safer communities, and provide financial benefits. Indeed, Leone and Wruble cite research showing that inmates who participated in a correctional education program had 43 percent lower odds of recidivating than those who did not. Moreover, these programs have returned between $12 and $75 in benefits to the state for each dollar spent.

When formerly incarcerated individuals obtain jobs and remain crime free, we all benefit from safer communities, increased tax revenues, and decreased costs associated with crime and imprisonment. Leone and Wruble argue “the time is ripe for a renaissance in correctional education in our state, and high-quality, widely available correctional education is a proven and broadly supported resource to accomplish important criminal justice reform objectives.”

Specifically, they recommend the following steps:

  1. Attract and retain high-quality teachers and education support staff;
  2. Improve instructional technology and enable access to the internet for instructional and vocational purposes;
  3. Provide meaningful incentives including enhanced credits for inmates who learn new skills, earn certifications, and become more literate through prison education programs; and
  4. Improve access to the prison education programs by interested citizens, educators, and nonprofit agencies interested in the welfare of incarcerated people.