Education & recidivism

Ridley, Christopher D.



Chris Ridley Education & Recidivism "The Fortune News", a reentry publication of the Fortune Society of New York City, asked it's readers the following question: "Do you think education has received enough attention as a strategy for successful reentry?" My answer to this is dual: Yes, the issue has been studied extensively; No, the implementation of extensive educational opportunities has not received the level of funding required to be effective. Budgetary concerns and the reductive remedies that follow are thematic of current economic times. Invariably, the first appropriation to suffer funding cuts in a prison system budget is the education program. This occurs in spite of numerous studies that have been conducted by both private and governmental agencies clearly indicating education to be grossly instrumental in reversing recidivistic tendencies. These same studies reveal that every dollar spent on providing educational opportunities in prison results in a future savings on incarceration costs three to fivefold. The United States spends 80 billion dollars a year housing all Federal, state, and local prisoners [1]. How much could this figure be reduced if just a fraction of one percent was put into prison education programs? The answer will most likely never see the light of day due to one word: Politics. Funding education programs for prisoners while simultaneously reducing funds for the public education system would amount to political suicide. The public outcry would drown out any rational discussion of the issue. Any politician who advocated funding for prison education would be seen as "soft on crime". The lobbying efforts and political influence wielded by the private prison industry toward maintaining the status quo of the ongoing profitability of their business model has an impact on any efforts to reduce recidivism through educational opportunities as well. After all, empty prison beds do not generate revenue. There is also the problem of the public's general perception that their state's prison system is performing the duties of correcting, through programs already in place, the negative behavioral trends exhibited by the individuals placed in their charge. Why spend additional funds for educational opportunities? Undoubtedly, those who are intimately familiar with the prison industry know perfectly well that any existing programs available to prisoners have a minimal, long-term impact on their negative behavior issues. The general public's best interest would be well served by an information campaign to drive home this fact: The vast majority of inmates who are currently incarcerated will eventually be released back into society. In 2005, 400,000 prisoners were released in the United States. Within five years 77% were rearrested for new crimes or parole violations [2]. The public should be made aware of how their hard-earned tax dollars could be better spent on providing prison education programs, which in the truest sense would foster rehabilitation. Such opportunities would be in lieu of and far less expensive than the $30,000 - $90,000 per year it cost to house one inmate [3]. A public awareness campaign could catapult the much needed change from warehousing inmates to rehabilitating them. As a resident of a North Carolina prison, I can attest to the fact that the state does a fair job of providing vocational training opportunities mostly in the building construction trades. Nevertheless, they fail miserably at making college level opportunities available. During the recent economic downturn they initiated a statewide cancellation of all college degree programs, one of which I was participating in. At the time of cancellation I had earned 24 credit hours towards an Associates Degree in Computer Information Technology. I was maintaining a 4.0 G.P.A. and was on the Dean's List. This program was being administered through the local community college by their continuing education division. The instructors were under contract with the college for the sole purpose of teaching a degree program in a prison environment. Every instructor I came in contact with was excited with the prospect of having such a positive impact on our lives. They taught our classes the same way they would have on a college campus with the same expectations of us. In their eyes we weren't inmates, we were adult college students. This alone had a huge impact on many of us. A dollar figure can't quantify the value of this lesson in confidence and self-respect. Justification for the cancellation of college programs was spun from a study which concluded that degrees earned by inmates while incarcerated were not being put to good use upon their release from prison. I find this extremely shortsighted. Moreover, I seriously doubt this study's legitimacy. What was meant by "good use"? Regardless of whether or not an individual finds employment directly related to their field of study, the possession of a college degree has been shown in so many different ways to have a major, positive impact throughout the degree holder's entire life. Every degree program consists of core subjects such as English, Math and Social Sciences. It would seem rather obvious that merely improving an inmate's understanding of these subjects would alone have a positive and exponential impact on their reintegration into society. Another positive aspect of participating in a degree program is that it clearly demonstrates to a prospective employer a level of self-imposed commitment to rehabilitation. A felony record is far less stigmal in the eyes of a prospective employer when they realize that an individual invested their time while incarcerated productively rather than vegetating in front of a television set or at a card table. The whole society benefits when it's members are gainfully employed, becoming contributing taxpayers and being employed greatly reduces the likelihood of recidivism. The only negatives I encountered while involved in the degree program were the road blocks, for both instructors and inmates, that were implemented by some custody and program staff, due to their dislike of inmates receiving a free college education when they couldn't. Hypothetically, what would be the result of reallocating the cost of studying ways to reduce recidivism to actually providing degree programs, an unequivocal route by which to reduce recidivism rates? What would be the result of redirecting the funds spent on building just one prison in each state to provide education programs? If governments were serious about reducing recidivism, who not for starters, mandate that anyone entering the prison system without at least a G.E.D. be immediately tested and enrolled into the appropriate level class until a G.E.D. is obtained. In North Carolina prisons, earning a G.E.D. is optional for an inmate. I hope to one day see some of this come to fruition. I have 12 more years to serve but I'm not holding my breath. Instead, I'm having my family liquidate what little personal property of value they are holding for me so that I can pay for my own education through correspondence courses. As this won't raise enough for me to complete a degree program, I implore Congress to pass the REAL Act and allow inmates access to Pell Grants again. [End Notes] 1. Mockenhaupt, Brian - "The Great Escape" Outside, September 2016 2. Mockenhaupt, ibid 3. Mockenhaupt, ibid

Author: Ridley, Christopher D.

Author Location: North Carolina

Date: July 10, 2017

Genre: Essay

Extent: 14 pages

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