Education in Prisons

Education is an extremely powerful force that can transform lives and communities. An important intersection between higher education and the Prison Industrial Complex that needs more investment is the expansion of education programs in prisons and re-entry initiatives. Prison education is the least expensive and most effective solution to overcrowding and reducing recidivism, or reoffending (Zoukis, 2014). Within five years of release, around 75% of formerly incarcerated individuals end up back behind bars. But astoundingly, for prisoners who obtain a bachelor’s degree while inside, this drops to a 0-2% recidivism rate. Given the high cost that recidivism requires from the government, investing in prison education not only pays for itself, but also saves public money. It is estimated that providing post-secondary education to just 10-30% of the United States prison population can translate to more than $60 billion a year added to the government. It is crucial to invest in the expansion and creation of such programs as the Tufts University Prison Initiative of Tisch College (TUPIT), which provides alongside Bunker Hill Community College an associate’s degree for currently incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students. Participation in college classes increases the likelihood of employment and basic survival, as well as encouraging the development of self-esteem, self-determination, empathy, and collaboration skills, as demonstrated in “You’re almost in this place that doesn’t exist”: The Impact of College in Prison as Understood by Formerly Incarcerated Students from the Northeastern United StatesIf our criminal justice system truly can be one that emphasizes rehabilitation and not punishment, then investing in education in prisons and re-entry programs is absolutely essential to help incarcerated people escape poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, and mental illness. With an understanding that mass incarceration is based in systemic racism and oppression, incarcerated people are inside because the government has failed them. Investing in education in prisons not only economically makes sense, but also is fulfilling the social duty of the government and society to provide all citizens with an education and the opportunity to lead a healthy and fulfilling life. It is therefore essential for universities and institutions of higher education to not only divest from the private prison system, but also invest in decarceration initiatives, such as education in prisons, in order to begin combating structural inequality and building a more equitable society.