Thursday, November 03, 2005

Few Prisoners Enroll in College Classes, Despite Research Indicating Its Effectiveness in Reducing Recidivism

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Despite mounting evidence that correctional education -- and postsecondary education in particular -- can be a cost-effective approach to reducing recidivism, fewer than 5 percent of prisoners nationwide are currently enrolled in college classes, according to a new report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Recidivism -- the re-arrest, reconviction, or return to prison of former prisoners -- has contributed to a rapidly growing prison population in the U.S. that costs American taxpayers nearly $30 billion annually.

To better understand the status, funding, and implementation of postsecondary correctional education programs the Institute conducted a national survey that yielded input from correctional education administrators from 45 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Results of the survey, along with additional data and analysis are detailed in the new report, "Learning to Reduce Recidivism: A 50-State Analysis of Postsecondary Correctional Education Policy."

In 2003-04, some 85,000 prisoners -- fewer than 5 percent of the total prison population -- were taking college courses, according to the report, representing just a small fraction of those who are prepared academically, eligible, and could benefit from access to higher education.

Interestingly, the vast majority of incarcerated students taking part in higher education -- 89 percent -- were enrolled in programs in 15 prison systems that awarded 96 percent of all degrees and certificates granted to prisoners nationwide. But contrary to popular perceptions, prison inmates have not been receiving free college degrees, even at the associate's level, in any significant numbers.

"Prisoners are serving longer sentences than in the past but are frequently released without the education or skills necessary to find productive employment," said Jamie Merisotis, president of the Institute. "Offering postsecondary education to inmates seems less 'soft on crime' and more a cost-effective means to reduce recidivism and gain control of the mounting tax burden."

The report calls for a national effort to build public support for postsecondary correctional education as an important means to reduce recidivism, and includes a series of recommendations and specific funding policy changes. The report also stresses the need for a strong state-level commitment, and profiles of policies in California, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Texas are provided as examples. For more information see


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