Higher Education In and After Prison
Counting all the people in jail and on probation or parole you get over 7.2 million people under the supervision of Corrections. This is one in every 31 U.S. adults [as of March 2009]. Almost all current inmates will be released in time, and will re-enter their communities. Of these, roughly 2/3 will end up “recidivated,” re-arrested, and some 40 percent to 60 percent will be re-incarcerated, within three years after their release (Langan and Levin, 2002). For many, the prison exit is a revolving door.
Education for those in and those in transition from prison is part of the solution to recidivism. The US Department of Justice released a study in 1994 that is often cited. It showed that of 275,000 prisoners released from prison in the early 90s, 67.5 percent had been rearrested within three years after release, and 51.8 percent were back in prison. There are also many studies of the impact of education in general and college in particular on recidivism. Each comes to the same conclusion: recidivism is reduced when inmates attend school/college while in prison, and that this reduction correlates to the amount of schooling completed.
Perhaps the work on recidivism and college is best summed up by Professor Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Urban Education, and Women’s Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in a report called Changing Minds, written in collaboration with incarcerated women at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (BHCF). The study found that college programs for those in prison radically reduced recidivism rates from 30 percent for women who did not attend college while in prison to 7 percent for women who did. “College in prison is a powerful intervention and relatively cost effective,” according to Professor Fine.
I would argue that dollar for dollar, education is a more effective crime-fighting strategy than re-incarceration. As the study mentioned above demonstrates, providing inmates access to higher education is fiscally far more efficient than incurring the high rates of re-incarceration and diminished employability. Specifically, the report estimates savings of about $9 million for every 100 prisoners over a period of four years. The Hudson Link college program serving the men at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, for example, has been in place for 13 years with almost zero percent recidivism.
Higher education during the transition from prison is equally crucial in preventing recidivism. College and Community Fellowship, an organization that helps women returning from prison to make the transition and complete college and graduate school degrees, guides students through school while promoting their leadership, self-advocacy, artistic expression, civic participation and long term economic security. The recidivism rate of these women, over 13 years, is less than 2 percent.
Barbara Martinsons has taught college classes in sociology and American history at the CUNY Graduate School, at Marymount Manhattan College and at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, Sing Sing Correctional Facility and at Sullivan County Correctional Facility. She serves on the Boards of Hudson Link for Higher Education and College and Community Fellowship.