Mississippi Prison Chief Epps: Improving Literacy Could Lower Crime Rate

Mississippi has the second highest incarceration rate in the nation. Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps says most of them have two things in common: a dependency on drugs or alcohol and an inability to read past a middle-school level, says the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. The average state inmate reads on a sixth-grade level when admitted to a corrections facility. Half never finished high school. Epps said the commonly heard maxim that prison cells can be built based on a state's literacy rates at third grade isn't entirely true but it's close. “I absolutely believe that someone who is illiterate has a better chance of being an inmate – they are coming in on a sixth-grade reading, writing and arithmetic level,” he said.
Epps said the reason people with lower literacy levels are more susceptible to criminal behavior is the lack of opportunity they have. Epps and his staff take advantage of their captive audience. There are 3,798 slots for inmates to go to school and 2,370 slots for inmates to receive drug rehabilitation. In 2011, the department had 682 students get GEDs, 519 get vocational certificates and 2,569 graduated from drug rehab. A study “showed our inmates maintain continued employment after release longer than a civilian,” he said. “That's why I know we're making a difference day-by-day.”

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