BEYOND BARS: Education Key to Lower Recidivism

By Jeff Isabell-Taylor
New Haven, MI

Education reduces crime and lowers recidivism, it’s that simple. So why has there been so much resistance to educating prisoners? Money? The view education is a reward?

Let me be blunt, this isn’t some bleeding heart, let’s be nice to prisoners kind of article. I completely understand prison is punishment. However, most prisoners will someday be returned to the same community they left. Therefore it is in everyone’s best interest to have a prisoner return a more productive member of the community. This isn’t a treat, or reward; college is hard work and life changing. What would your life look like if you hadn’t gone to college?

President Clinton mistakenly repealed Pell Grants for prisoners in 1994, in an effort to save money. President Obama saw the mistake in taking away education from prisoners and enacted a pilot program to give some prisoners Pell Grants in 2016. However, full access to Pell Grants is needed so all prisoners can better themselves and the community they will return to. Here in Michigan, prisoners much choose between education or moving away from family and not receiving visits. This is because classes are only offered at one prison in the whole state. With schools/organizations prisoners can take courses through correspondence classes, at any prison they may be housed at.
There is a phrase that states, “You get out what you put in.” By simply warehousing prisoners, prisoners come home exactly like they were when they came to prison. Is there any wonder why many reoffend? We must change their path in life—education does just that. Many prisoners are literally begging for the chance to attend college through correspondence courses and become a better person, myself included.

Education means a great deal to me. Currently, I am paying $30 per month out of my own pocket to participate in Blackstone’s paralegal program. I work 40 hours a week in the prison kitchen making $0.37 per hour, so the paralegal program is more than half of my monthly income. There are many prisoners out there like me eager to better ourselves.

Now, you don’t have to take my word that education works. The Federal Bureau of Prisons states, “there is an inverse relationship between recidivism rates and education. The more education received the less likely an individual is to be re-arrested or re-imprisoned. (1) There are many studies available, each confirming this conclusion. Prisoners who achieve a high school diploma or GED have less than a 54.6% recidivism rate, whereas 13.7% of prisoners who obtain an associate’s degree reoffend, and only 5.6% of prisoners with a bachelor’s degree reoffend. And the recidivism rate for prisoners with a master’s degree is 0%. (2) The solution to recidivism is clearly education.
There is good news: the US Congress has heard the pleas of prisoners, and seen the results of study after study. The Pell Grant Preservation & Expansion Act bill is currently in Congress, which would allow incarcerated students full Pell Grants. In May 2017, Congressman Davis (D-CA) and Congressman Scott (D-VA) introduced HR 2451, and Senator Hirono (D-HI) and Senator Murray (D-WA) introduced S1136.

I am asking everyone to call or email your US Representatives and Senators to demand that they support HR 2451 and S 1136. PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE. They someday may be your neighbor, colleague, and possibly even your friend. We, the prisoners, are asking that you help open the doors to success. It’s up to us, prisoners, to walk through the door and do the hard work to prove ourselves worthy to be part of the community once again.

(1) “Education as crime prevention,” Open Society Institute, Criminal Justice Initiative, Research Brief Occasional Paper Series No. 2 (September 1997); E.R. Meiners, “Resisting Civil Death: Organizing for Access to Education in our Prison Nation,” DePaul Journal for Social Justice, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2009), H. McCarty 2006 op. cit.

(2) Robert Allen, “An Economic Analysis of Prison Education Programs and Recidivism”. Emery University, Department of Economics (2006) ■