If Prison Education Works, Why Doesn’t U.S. Embrace It?


A new initiative by the Obama Administration to make Pell education grants available to the incarcerated is about to test just how truly corrective our so-called corrections system can be, Michelle Chen writes for The Nation. Education grants for the imprisoned were taken away by Congress in the mid-1990s, and college behind bars remains a tough sell to some law-and-order conservatives. Generally, however, the idea of de-carcerating the prison population appeals to an ascendant libertarian streak among Republicans because, in fiscal terms, textbooks and professors yield better returns on investment than weight rooms and laundry duty.

Prison education, by cutting recidivism rates, saves $4 to $5 for each dollar spent. Though research on the issue is still lacking, studies that have tracked the relationship between recidivism and educational attainment generally point to reduced recidivism and better preparation for release. A college degree can help offset the enormous employment barriers formerly incarcerated people typically face. Delivering long-denied educational opportunity behind bars isn't a process of “correcting” the flawed people inside but of correcting injustice that surrounds communities on the outside, Chen writes.

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