High school graduation rates are on the rise in the U.S. except for one segment of the population: They’ve dropped dramatically for people in prison or jail, reports NPR. Since a new version of the General Education Development test came out last year, the pass rate for inmates has plummeted. It used to be a multiple-choice test taken with a pencil but now it requires computer skills some inmates simply don’t have. At the Montgomery County jail in southwestern Virginia, inmates have been having a hard time with the updated version. “When this new test first started, we was like [zero] for 15 as far as people passing this test,” says inmate Brandon Snider.
Virginia no longer requires ex-cons to identify themselves as former inmates on state job applications. Greg Warden, the jail’s program director, says that if inmates pass the GED test, the door to a career path may swing open. Some county jails stopped offering GED exams because of the changes to the test. They cite more cumbersome rules for on-site testing centers and not enough teacher training. Some kept their testing programs going despite those challenges. Cpt. Kimberly Haug of the Montgomery County facility insisted that they do whatever it takes to continue the program. With “40- or 50-year-old men crying … breaking down in tears saying, ‘I never accomplished anything in my life until this,’ ” she says. “We had to re-evaluate and rethink it — what we were doing when we had to decide whether we were going to buy all the computers, if we were going to go forward with it. We knew we wanted to.” The Rand Corporation found that every dollar spent on correctional education programs saves $5 in reincarceration costs.