College classes for Washington prison inmates, which fell out of political favor in the 1990s, are slowly returning, operated on shoestring budgets with private money, reports the Seattle Times. Supporters believe the classes give felons skills that can help them get jobs, reducing recidivism. They point to a 2013 study by the nonprofit RAND Corp. that concluded that prisoners who participated in education programs were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years of release.
The study couldn't unravel whether college classes made the difference, because it looked at all levels of schooling, including GEDs and vocational education. But studies being done now are tackling that question. But the instructors involved believe they're making a difference. Reid Helford, who teaches sociology to inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, said education teaches inmates to be thoughtful and disciplined and to think critically about the world around them.