Breaking the Cycle of Re-Incarceration with Education


November 2, 2016

Last week the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) hosted an event covering an important and often overlooked topic: reintegration to society after incarceration. Many attended in person or tuned in via webcast to hear the discussions on “Reconnecting Justice: Pathways to Effective Reentry through Education and Training,” the second forum in a series on criminal justice.
Those who were able to attend learned that incarceration and the subsequent reentry into society is a complex topic. However, it is clear that the current criminal justice system is broken. According to CLASP’s new report, From Incarceration to Reentry, there are currently 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States, accounting for 20 percent of the world’s prison population. This is a concerning and disproportionate amount considering our country only makes up 5 percent of the world’s total population. Within our prisons, Blacks and Latinos are overly represented, accounting for more than half of all prisoners. Additionally, more than two-thirds of state-prison inmates do not have a high school diploma.


Recidivism is also a pressing issue in criminal justice and was a focus of the event. According to the National Justice Institute, more than two thirds (67.8 percent) of released prisoners are rearrested within 3 years. Fortunately, access to correctional education has been proven to reduce re-incarceration and growing educational opportunities may help break the cyclical path back to prison. The Second Chance Act (SCA) was introduced in 2007 to address these concerns by supporting local governments and nonprofit organizations in their efforts to reduce recidivism.

In the wake of SCA, the RAND Corporation released a report on education and incarcerated adults. The study found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within 3 years when compared to those who did not participate in similar programs. Additionally, for every dollar spent on correctional education, 4 to 5 dollars are saved on re-incarceration costs. That is more than a 400 percent return on investment for every dollar spent on education.

It is clear that promoting education will not only help keep former inmates out of jail, it will also save taxpayers’ money. To help grow opportunities in education, the Department of Education announced in June that 67 colleges and universities were selected to participate in the Second Chance Pell pilot program. This will test whether participation in high quality education programs will increase with access to financial aid for incarcerated individuals. The selected colleges and universities will partner with 100 federal and state prisons to enroll 12,000 students in educational and training programs, helping inmates create better lives for themselves once they are released.

Opportunities like the Second Chance Pell program are a step in the right direction, and the speakers at the forum on Friday were hopeful for what this could mean for criminal justice reform. For the millions of people currently incarcerated, opening doors to education offers them the opportunity to build better futures for themselves, their families and their communities when they reenter society.

Missed the CLASP webcast when it aired live last Friday? No problem, you can watch the recording here or below.

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