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June 8, 2018

"Why Aren’t We Spending More on Prisoner Education?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary authored by Stephen Steurer now up at The Crime Report. Here is how it starts and ends:

Education reduces crime, plain and simple.

The RAND Corporation underscored the positive impact of education in its 2013 review of the research reports on correctional education over the last couple of decades.  Bottom line from their reports: providing education programs for incarcerated men and women significantly reduces future crime all by itself, separate from any other treatment they receive.

Combined with other effective programs, such as drug rehabilitation and mental health counseling, education can help to reduce crime and recidivism even more effectively. RAND also demonstrated clearly that an education program pays for itself several times over. Every dollar invested in correctional education creates a return of five dollars in the reduction of future criminal justice costs.

So why are we not spending more criminal justice dollars on education?  We literally spend billions on the most expensive — and least effective — option: locking folks behind bars in record numbers....

Positive change can be painfully slow.  However, when the US does become interested in a particular issue, it is amazing how quickly it can retool and redirect its resources.  For those of us old enough to remember, we did it by putting a man on the moon when the Russians threatened US leadership in the space race.  Hopefully, we can redirect ourselves again to help change the direction of the lives of so many people returning to society after years of incarceration.

Education is not rocket science.  We already know how to teach people to read, write, do math and train for jobs.  For the sake of the incarcerated and, literally, for our own health and safety, let’s build and open more school programs in our prisons and jails.  Education does reduce recidivism!...

We continue to need serious political writers, both liberals and conservatives, to urge government and courts to get really “tough on crime” and sentence criminals to do their time in school to straighten out their lives.  We need to literally “throw the book at them.”

June 8, 2018 at 10:29 AM | Permalink


As someone who has taught corrections courses, I have asked this question several times when we got to the section on correctional impacts. The answer to most, perhaps a giant majority, is that offenders should not recidivate, period, and, at a time when teachers across the country are going on strike because of inadequate funding of public schools and college loans on ever-rising tuitions are burdening higher ed participants, why should those who have been convicted of crimes be "given" something that non-offenders have to pay for, then pay again through their taxes for the offenders?

Not saying this is right or wise and I'm very sympathetic to the need for more and better offender education. I have even done the numbers on the impacts of the three general types of prison education on recidivism and can even tell you why "basic education" is positively related to greater recidivism while the other two are significantly negatively associated. But my students were never impressed, and neither is a public who sees itself doubly taxed and in their minds played. And that answer is highly unlikely to change as revenues tighten more in the future. Sorry.

Posted by: mike | Jun 8, 2018 10:59:33 AM

Sadly, what many people don't seem to understand is that literacy instruction, teaching kids to read, really is similar to rocket science. There is a tremendous amount of scientific research about how to teach reading that is not making it into our classrooms. If we invested in our elementary schools and raised our literacy rates above 30% across the country...we would lower our incarceration rates and we would not need to debate about educating our inmates. There is a direct correlation between the number of kids not reading on grade level in 3rd grade and the number of prison beds that will be needed in 10 years when those children forgotten by our schools and pushed aside turn 18. Look at our Nations Report Card in reading...if less than 30% of our kids are reading on grade level in 4th and 8th grade, what are their prospects in life? We could reduce incarceration rates (instead of recidivism rates) if we spent some of our current prison funding on early education and literacy instruction.

Posted by: Diane | Jun 8, 2018 1:01:11 PM

What the states and the counties are trying to do is too reduce the cost of corrections. Most of the corrections costs are for staff so they are eliminating staff positions. The director of corrections has to figure out what staff positions to eliminate and still protect the safety of the inmates and remaining staff members. Deaths and serious injuries are possible outcomes and talking about education programs under such circumstances seems unrealistic.

Posted by: John Neff | Jun 8, 2018 8:38:14 PM

This is more pro-criminal, misleading, left wing bullshit from the lawyer. Recidivism is a worthless and invalid measure of relapse into criminality. Only 10% of serious crimes are prosecuted. If one looks at the modernization of crime to the internet and to identity theft, it is more like 1 in a million.

Even with such appalling outcome measures, the change in recidivism is 13% lower. This is not meaningful at the gut level. It is a meaningless difference. Any statistical significance was likely not corrected for the large sample size.

The idea that people can be trained to earn $10 an hour doing maintenance, and give up crime activity bringing in 10 times that much is an insult to the intelligence of the convicted felons.

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 9, 2018 1:13:00 AM

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