Reducing recidivism through education opportunities
Criminal Justice experts have reported that one solution to recidivism — a person’s relapse into criminal behavior after they have been released from prison — is educational opportunities to inmates, including substance abuse treatment, life skills training, networking and education (high school (GED) programs, trade school, even associate’s and bachelor’s programs).
From 1972 to 1995, inmates who were not sentenced to death or life could apply for Pell Grants and funds to help offset the cost of prison education.
“Early in the 1990s there were 350 postsecondary prison programs in 37 states. But inmate eligibility was withdrawn in the get-tough-on-crime decade,” David Skorton and Glenn Altschuler for Forbes write, “By 2005, only a dozen prisons had postsecondary programs, most of them a patchwork of volunteer efforts by individual colleges and universities.”
One example of such a college partnership is Cornell University’s Prison Education Program (CPEP), where Cornell faculty and graduate students teach college-level courses in a liberal arts curriculum to select students at New York correctional facilities. The credits are applied toward an associate’s degree from local Cayuga Community College.
As of Spring 2015, CPEP provides 15 credit-bearing courses.
The percentage of New York parolees who were re-incarcerated as of 2014 was 40 percent. However, since 2008, the percentage of CPEP students who completed three or more courses that were re-incarcerated was 7 percent, and even greater, the number of CPEP students who completed an associate’s degree and then faced re-incarceration is zero.
A 2005 Pennsylvania Department of Corrections study on education outcomes focused on recidivism and post-release employment, comparing numbers of re-arrest and re-imprisonment between correctional education participants and non-participants.
The study found that correctional education participation significantly reduced the odds of re-arrest — non-participants with a re-arrest rate of 29.4 percent, and participants with a rate of 23.6 percent. The lowest recidivism rate for re-arrest was found in those who had participated in multiple education programs — 21.8 percent.
This study made several recommendations to increase equity of programs, lower likelihood of re-arrest and re-imprisonment and decrease spending. Some of these recommendations include:
- Encouraging offenders to participate in education programs that combine participation in educational, vocational and non-traditional education programs such as life skills;
- Strengthening ties to education programs in the community and assisting inmates in making contact with them prior to release;
- Recognizing the achievements of inmates in a meaningful way;
- And more.
Alvernia Criminal Justice students interested in pursuing careers that work to provide educational opportunities to departments of corrections and inmates should look into attending conferences and training events held by the Correctional Education Association and their New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other chapters. Students can also talk to their advisers to learn more about internships, coursework and connections they may have in this field.
In our next blog, Tales of Justice will look further into the strikingly high rate of re-arrest, reconviction or return to prison, known as recidivism, in the United States.