Why Should Prisoners Receive College Education?

Why Should Prisoners Receive College Education 

By Jesse B. Valbrun




The United States has the unfortunate distinction of having the greatest rate of incarceration on the planet. Despite having one of the highest standards of living, many social and economic contributors coupled with the mental state of many american’s has facilitated a scary culture of violence and corruption. Some may choose to rob a corner store in a desperate attempt to get on his or her feet, or turn to selling narcotics to turn out a profit. Others fall victim to a judicial system that identifies drug abusers as criminal, rather than victims of addiction, and are forced to serve time with murderers and rapist. Ultimately, many people make decisions that unfortunately land them in American jails and prisons. Many of these individuals who made a poor decision become saturated in criminal culture, and come home more mentally unstable then they did when they first got incarcerated.


Many believe that our justice system should make a systemic shift from our prisons working to punish criminals to our correctional facilities making a greater effort to rehabilitate them. One step that can be taken in an effort to reform criminals is to provide prisoners with the opportunity to receive a college education while incarcerated. I would argue that providing criminals with the opportunity to receive a college education would facilitate their ability to indoctrinate themselves back into society and earn a living.


The Statistics


There are currently about 9 million individuals serving in prison. Children and juveniles actually make up a surprising percentage of the global prison population, as global statistics estimate that at least a million children, mostly boys, are currently serving time in detention centers that also facilitate the development of one’s criminal identity. Out of these 9 million individuals serving time, 2.2 million of them are currently being held in jails, detention centers and prisons within the United States, a number that has dramatically increased by 500% over the past thirty years (“Prisoners’ Right to Education”). Even more depressing, a study by Caroline Wolf Harlow concluded that around 41% of state and federal prison inmates did not even finish high school. Unfortunately, for many of these individuals the highest level of education completed was the passing of the GED test, as 25% of state prison inmates and 20% of Federal inmates had gotten their GEDs (“Why Should We Care About Education in Prison?”).


The Consequences

The overwhelming prison population in the United States have resulted in state governments concerning themselves with the burden of generating the necessary funds to sustain their detention facilities. As a result, many of the programs employed to rehabilitate criminals, including educational and artistic programs have been cut or reduced. Consequently, many criminals, including young juveniles are not even offered an adequate program to educate themselves.


Unfortunately juveniles, who aren’t even emotionally or physically fully development, receive deficient education and upon release over 66% do not return to school (“Prisoners’ Right to Education”). A lack of education ultimately leads to a lack of legitimate opportunity consequently increasing the chances that a juvenile or adult criminal returns to practicing criminal activity and ultimately landing them back in jail.


In short, if our judicial system is the means in which our country attempts to maintain public safety, affording criminals the opportunity to attain a quality education would have a significant impact on that agenda. By simply incarcerating individuals without providing them with education, all our system is doing is educating our youth and criminal minds in more intense and keener methods of conducting criminal activity. Thus, our penal system is actually producing more criminals, and deploying them back into the general population without the most basic levels of education.


Inadequate Programs

“We cannot imprison a person for many years without providing an avenue for change… Indeed change will have occurred but certainly not how it was envisioned. For we will have created an envious, frustrated, delusional, pent-up, angry and de-humanized individual who will certainly seek revenge.”(“Prisoners’ Right to Education”).



The above quote came not from an accredited philosopher. Instead, the words came from a prisoner interviewed by the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Munoz. Through research, Munoz came to a few conclusion in regards to education concerned with prison inmate. For one, educational opportunities are employed more in an effort to manage inmates rather than educate them. Additionally, the detention centers that do provide inmates with educational opportunities often have a number of issues. Munoz explained that many of these programs can be abruptly interrupted or terminated at the discretion of prison administrators, lack libraries, limited or no access to training in information technology, dated vocational courses and waiting list for such programs of up to 3 years (“Prisoners’ Right to Education”).


    In regards to the female prison population, a demographic making up four percent of the total prison population, the programs offered are even less sufficient in relation to men. Educational and vocational programs for women are often shaped by their gender, as many of the courses that women in the United States are offered, such as sewing, home ec, arts and crafts and opportunities in cosmetics. These women are often poor, are already academically deficient, unemployed and enter the prison system with very few skills (“Prisoners’ Rights to Education”.) Unfortunately they often leave even more deprived spiritually and academically.


    Although individuals may turn a deaf ear to the concerns of our prison population, the effects of prisoners getting out of prison learning no newly acquired skill, in many cases, makes them more of a threat than before, as no one wants to hire an ex-convict.

Within his article Muñoz cautions that, “it is too frequently forgotten that the consequences of what does or does not happen to those who experience detention will also be felt by the community to which the majority of prisoners are released (“Prisoners’ Rights to Education”).” Ultimately, those who don’t want their tax dollars funding college courses in prison facilities should be conscious that their reservations may actually put them in danger.




    It shouldn’t be a surprise that a large number of individuals who leave detention centers return. This is the case because these inmates enter a progressing world with outdated abilities and a record. Consequently they often turn to a life of crime to generate a reasonable amount of income. In New York State, forty percent of all inmates who come home from a correctional institution return within three years of their release. Unfortunately, the victims of these crimes are often law abiding citizens. One aspect that should be noted in regards to assessing retention rates are whether or not newly released inmates return to prison is whether he is returning to a stable home situation, whether he or she has mental health or substance abuse issues, and on his or her education and employment-related skills (Skorton, David.”College Behind Bars: How Educating Prisoners Pays Off.”).


    Ultimately the chances of an ex-convict attaining employment is one of the most important elements in regards to keeping them from going back to prison. Unfortunately, many criminals are undereducated prior to entering a particular detention center. To further disadvantage these individuals, according to a Georgetown study it is predicted that half of all jobs created this decade will require some completion of a postsecondary school education (Skorton, David.”College Behind Bars: How Educating Prisoners Pays Off.”).


Ultimately, providing the prison population with educational opportunities that will facilitate their ability to find work to improve public safety by encouraging students . According to a study of Missouri prisoners, the re-incarceration rates were cut nearly in half for inmates who found full-time jobs in comparison with inmates who failed to find employment. The same study also suggest that inmates dramatically increase their chances of finding a good job by participating in and completing an educational program in prison. Furthermore a 2005 study concluded that on average retention rates for prison inmates were reduced by 46% in comparison to those who choose not to take advantage of educational programs offered at their particular facility (Skorton, David.”College Behind Bars: How Educating Prisoners Pays Off.”).  


The Bottom Line


Providing our prison population with the opportunity to receive college credit not only works to improve public safety, by keeping criminals from turning back to their criminal lifestyles and facilitating their ability to find work, but it saves money as well. Although incarceration can be big business for some private companies, it is a huge burden in regards to state funding. To combat this burden, correctional institution should work as hard as they can to ensure the reduction of retention rates. Every inmate who leaves the system actually saves that state up to $25,000 per year. In 2010, it was estimated that 650,000 individuals were released from prison. With this in mind, reducing retention rates by 50% could potentially save $2.7 billion per year. Additionally, inmates with adequate employment are also less likely to need government assistance and are able to contribute more to the economy as a taxpayer and consumer (Skorton, David.”College Behind Bars: How Educating Prisoners Pays Off.”).




    Ultimately, opting to provide our prison population with the opportunity to receive a college education would be an a huge step in rehabilitating our criminals. Providing these demographic with proper education enables them to lead more sufficient lives in the outside world, and equip them with the necessary skills to take a legitimate path towards the straight and narrow. These people getting good jobs increases public safety by keeping these individuals from going back to commit crimes. Additionally, rehabbing our prisoners ultimately saves states money that they could delegate to other projects. #Share #Share #Share #Comment #Comment 


~ ~ ~

Follow the author @dom_cess on Instagram




  • “Prisoners’ Right to Education.” Prisoners’ Right to Education. 28 July 2009. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.


  • Skorton, David. “College Behind Bars: How Educating Prisoners Pays Off.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 25 Mar. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.

“Why Should We Care About Education in Prison?” Why Should We Care About Education in Prison? Web. 6 Apr. 2015.  

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: