Prison inmates who receive general
education and vocational training are significantly less likely to return to
prison after release and are more likely to find employment than peers who do
not receive such opportunities, according to a new RAND Corporation report.
The findings, from the largest-ever
meta-analysis of correctional educational studies, suggest that prison
education programs are cost effective, with a $1 investment in prison education
reducing incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three years
"We found strong evidence that
correctional education plays a role in reducing recidivism," said Lois
Davis, the project's lead researcher and a senior policy researcher at RAND, a
non-profit research organisation. "Our findings are clear that providing
inmates education programs and vocational training helps keep them from
returning to prison and improves their future job prospects."
the study was done
Researchers found that inmates who
participate in correctional education programs have a 43 percent lower chance
of returning to prison than those who do not. The estimate is based on studies
that carefully account for motivation and other differences between
correctional education recipients and non-recipients.
Employment after release was 13% higher
among prisoners who participated in either academic or vocational education
programs than those who did not. Those who participated in vocational training
were 28% more likely to be employed after release from prison than who did not
receive such training.
The findings also suggest that prison
education programs are cost effective. The direct costs of providing education
are estimated to be from $1 400 to $1 744 per inmate, with re-incarceration
costs being $8 700 to $9 700 less for each inmate who received correctional
education as compared to those who did not.
While the results consistently demonstrated
the benefits of prison education programs, researchers say there is not yet
enough evidence to determine which educational programs performed the best.
"Our findings suggest that we no
longer need to debate whether correctional education works," Davis said.
"But we do need more research to tease out which parts of these programs
The study, which was supported by the US
departments of education and justice, should be of interest to corrections
officials and state lawmakers as they cope with operating prisons during
difficult budget times.
There long has been debate about the role
prison-based education programs can play in preparing inmates to return to
society and keeping them from returning to prison. Recidivism remains high
nationally, with four in 10 inmates returning to prison within three years of
release. While most states offer some type of correctional education, surveys
find no more than half receive any instruction.
In general, people in US prisons have less
education than the general population. In 2004, 36% of individuals in state
prisons had less than a high school diploma, compared to 19% of the general US
population older than 16.
In addition, ex-offenders frequently often
lack vocation skills and a steady history of employment. Researchers say the
dynamics of prison entry and re-entry to society make it hard for ex-offenders
to find work and build an employment history.
RAND researchers conducted a comprehensive
review of the scientific literature of research on correctional education and
performed a meta-analysis to synthesize the findings from multiple studies
about the effectiveness of correctional education programs. A meta-analysis is
a comprehensive way of synthesizing findings from multiple studies to develop
scientific consensus about the efficacy of a program or an intervention.
The analysis was limited to studies
published about education programs in the United States that included an
academic or vocational curriculum with a structured instructional component.
The analysis focused on recidivism, but also examined whether education
improved labor force participation and gains in academic achievement test
scores. The study did not access life skills programs.
Programs that offered instruction toward a
high school diploma or general education development (GED) certificate were the
most common approach. Studies that included adult basic education, high school
diploma/GED, postsecondary education and vocational training all showed
reductions in recidivism.
technology also helps
Because of overlaps in curriculum and a
lack of detail about the duration of instruction, researchers could not
determine what types of programs worked best.
Researchers also examined the relationship
between computer-assisted instruction and academic performance, which is
important in prisons because the technology allows self-paced learning that can
be delivered at a lower cost than traditional instruction.
The study found some evidence that
computer-assisted instruction further improved math and reading achievement
among inmates, but the findings were not strong enough to reach a final
"As corrections officials struggle to
cope during a period of constrained government spending, prison education is an
approach that may help save money in even the short term," Davis said.