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Relapse Into Criminal Behavior Drops Due To College-In-Prison Programs

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Once fairly common in state prisons a few decades ago, Bill Clinton killed most prison liberal arts programs by tweaking the Higher Education Act in the mid-nineties, disqualifying inmates from receiving financial aid. A couple years ago, however, some foundations, like Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, started funding programs that allow prisoners to dual enroll at local community colleges from the comfort of their own prison, and earn up to a master’s degree while incarcerated, too. The drop in recidivism prompted the Obama administration to launch the Second Chance Pell Pilot program last year, once again qualifying prisoners for Pell grants.

At $5,000 per student per year, these education-behind-bars programs are a bargain for New York, which now draws funding from private foundations, taxpayers, and bank forfeiture funds (one can only hope Bernie Madoff is paying for this). While some might argue that $5,000 per prisoner is a waste of money and that the state shouldn’t facilitate the education of someone who committed crimes against society, forgoing further punishment and actually educating these inmates makes fiscal sense because of dramatically reduced recidivism.

From Wall Street Journal:

In a study of New York inmates, 13% of those who earned college degrees came back to prison within three years, and 2% returned because they were convicted of new felonies. For the overall state prison population, 42% returned within three years. About 9% had new felony convictions.

Prisoners released with a degree earned while locked up are only 30 percent as likely to return to the pen with a new charge as the rest of the general prison population. More telling, educated prisoners are only 22 percent as likely to return with a new felony on the rap sheet when compared to unlearned inmates.

In a perfect world, we could say prisoners are educating prisoners since some funding comes from bank forfeitures. Though not entirely funded by seized bank accounts, it seems that providing a liberal arts education in prison will still save taxpayers money in the long run.

New York spends an absurd $60,000 per prisoner per year. Let’s say it takes a prisoner six years to get a bachelor’s degree while he’s doing time (maybe he failed criminal justice a couple times). That’s going to run the state about $30,000 over a half dozen years. This prisoner is finally released, and is no longer a financial burden on the state, and he’s likely to stay that way.

The recidivism possibility for an uneducated prisoner is 42 percent, meaning he’s a $25,200 annual risk to the government. Learnt prisoners, on the other hand, are only a $7,800 annual risk. If educations for the incarcerated are treated like investments, the state can recoup $30,000 for a six-year education in a matter of six months. Moreover, the $17,400 savings on annual risk dwarfs the nominal $5,000 for a liberal arts education.

Last year, 1,510 New York inmates, or about 3% of roughly 52,000 in the state prison system, participated in college programs. From September 2014 to August 2015, 72 graduated with associate degrees, 46 earned bachelor’s, and 11 earned master’s, according to the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Let’s assume these 1,510 inmates aren’t lifers and will get out eventually. Only 197 of the convicts will find their way back behind bars. The other 1,313 will go on to be semi-productive people who now cost the state $78,780,000 less per year.

Or maybe they’ll all go on SSI and continue leaching off the government. Who knows?

[via Wall Street Journal]

Image via Shutterstock

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Kramer Smash

Unabashed Pitt alum with an affinity for brown girls and Manhattans. Send lovelies to

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