Why Prisoners Should Have Access to a College Education
The current correction offered to convicts is incarceration at different correctional facilities across the country. The sentence does not necessarily spell doom to the incarcerated but may be a channel to rehabilitate oneself to enable reintegration back into society. As correctional facilities, state prisons offer education for the inmates to increase their skill set to deter them from the life they led prior to imprisonment. The gains made by these programs are something that need to be lauded. These courses are popular with inmates and lend itself to debate. The relevance of college education to prisoners is a matter that needs proper scrutiny.
The advocates for educating inmates stress on its importance in rehabilitation. As the main aim of correctional facilities is rehabilitating inmates for reintegration into society after they complete serving their sentences, education is key in this process. Most convicted felons get into crime because of an inability to get jobs. That is, some crimes are motivated by a need to escape poverty. The lack of employment opportunities is usually brought about by a lack of education. Part of the correctional role that prisons play is to provide the necessary skills that prisoners need to integrate themselves into society and become useful members (Gaes, 3).
Prison education programs provide inmates with vocational training and academic education. The vocational training aims at supplying prisoners with skills necessary in vocations that they may encounter in the community setting. Such vocations include plumbing, electricity and landscaping. All the training offered is free to the prisoner. Vocational training may be attractive to those prisoners with difficulty with academics or those with a preference to manual work. The added benefits of almost immediate job opportunities are attractive to those inmates who want to be rehabilitated and those with dependants for whom to take care.
An alternative program offered is academic education. This is offered in the form of GED – an equivalent to a high school diploma – or literacy classes. The classes impart reading and writing skills as well as basic arithmetic skills. The purpose of these classes is to prepare the prisoners to take the GED examination, and even set the groundwork for further studies. The acquisition of a high school diploma improves the opportunities available to the inmates in terms of jobs. Past the basic level, college education is offered via the partnerships with colleges and universities in correspondence courses that are not free to the prisoners and may cost hundreds of dollars per piece (Tangney).
The reduction in recidivism is the greatest advantage to providing inmates with an education. The provision of skills to obtain meaningful employment helps most released offenders escape from the cycle of crime that put them in prison in the first place. This decreases the chances of returning to prison by an appreciable margin. The respect gained by the ex-convict from the community may serve to be a further deterrence (Gaes, 9). Attainment of employment occupies the ex-convict and may keep them from gangs that they hang out with consequently lowering the recidivism rate overall.
The United States has the largest population of prisoners in the world. This means the burden of support this population rests with the taxpayer. Annually, it costs between $32,000 and $40,000 to incarcerate an individual. With an equally high recidivism rate of around fifty percent, this pushes the total budget quite high. On the other hand, it costs $2,000 to $4,000 to provide a college education (National Association of State Budget Officers). This means that it is cost-effective to educate the inmates, which lowers the recidivism rate, and means more savings made by the taxpayer as far as the overall corrections budget is concerned.
A reduction in crime rates is the biggest gain as far as the victims are concerned. The benefit education has on the reduction of crime rates is attributable to the discipline learned in the process of obtaining an education with in prison (Coley, 13). The dedication required to improve one’s literary skills while in prison, serve as deterrence to the life of crime. In addition, a good number of ex-convicts just needed a source of income to take care of themselves and their dependants. The education and skills acquired in prison offer prisoners with a way out of the life of crime; hence, their victims are afforded peace of mind from any repeat attacks.
A new status is acquired by an ex-convict upon leaving prison and obtaining gainful employment. It is relevant to their integration back into society and may expunge the negative connotations associated with a convicted felon. The education gained in prison sets a foundation in the post-release life of an ex-convict. It is increasingly easier for a person to turn their lives around by participating in the free education programs offered in prison. With a new lease on life, an ex-convict may find it harder to return to their old ways (Coley, 29). The self-appreciation that comes from taking such a positive steps boosts one’s esteem. The respect gained from serving in a respectable position in the community aids, in deterring recidivism.
There are some opponents of education offered to criminals. The argument against their education is that it equips criminals with more skills to commit crime as compared to deterring it. Not all criminals are in crime because of poverty, some choose a life of crime. Offering such individuals with higher education may impart them with the skills necessary to graduate from blue collar to white collar crime. The taxpayer’s money is thus lost as the number of criminals increased as well as the victims. The blanket provision of education, in this case is not beneficial to the public that bears the financial burden of the cost of education.
Another group of people ineligible for state-funded education is those serving life without the possibility of parole (Argys, 3). Such inmates are never going to be rehabilitated back into society; hence, the need to spend public funds educating them does not make sense. An inmate spending the rest of their life behind bars is utilizing a disproportionately huge amount of taxpayers’ money and the further burden of funding their education serves no purpose. This may not be fair but makes financial sense. There is no sense in educating a group that will never use that education. The country is rife with cases of needier people than one serving a life sentence.
Proponents and opponents agree that a majority of prisoners could be set free if only they understood their rights and the justice system. This has led to the support of other means of correction other than the penitentiary system. Prisons may not be the most conducive environment for those who may want to turn away from a life of crime. The interaction with other prisoners may increase the probability of repeat offence or introduction to other forms of crime. The gang mentality present in prisons should not be overlooked. Instigation and threats serve as an inhibition to rehabilitation.
Proponents of prison education have overplayed its benefits. Ex-convicts do not automatically abstain from crime because of incarceration. The chances of repeating the criminal acts stand at around fifty percent. Receiving an education does not automatically convert the individual. Perception by the community they come from may hinder their correction. The community plays a big part in the likelihood of an ex-convict regressing back to criminal life. The community may not be willing to give the ex-convict a chance to prove their rehabilitation negating the positive effects a prison education may have had.
In conclusion, the gains that education programs have on the outcome of a prisoner’s life, and the financial benefits to the taxpayer greatly outweigh the disadvantages the program may have. The added support of the tertiary institutions of learning and non-profit groups may aid the spread of these programs to those who cannot afford the costs of correspondence learning. Convicts are people who deserve the right to advance themselves. The benefits this education has to the prisoners and the society are numerous and cause enough to support these programs. The financial, as well as aesthetic value of the education has been shown. After all, it is the crime that is being punished, not the person.
Argys, Laura M, and H N. Mocan. Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?: An Analysis of Prisoners on Death Row in the United States. Cambridge, Mass: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2003. Print.
Coley, Richard J, and Paul E. Barton. Locked Up and Locked Out: An Educational Perspective on the U.S. Prison Population. Princeton, NJ: Policy Evaluation and Research Center, Policy Information Center, Educational Testing Service, 2006. Print.
Gaes, Gerald G. The Impact of Prison Education Programs on Post-Release Outcomes. S.l: s.n, 2008. Print.
National Association of State Budget Officers. 2009 State Expenditure Report. National Association of State Budget Officers, 2010. Print
Tangney, June. “Cndemn the Crime, not the Person.” The Boston Globe (Boston, MA). The New York Times Company. 2001. HighBeam Research. 24 Sep. 2012