Investing in Inmate Education Saves American Taxpayers Real Cash

As President Donald Trump continues his focus on criminal justice reform and additional reforms to federal spending, it is important for the administration to consider the impact of education on inmates and offenders as well. No one can deny that state and federal expenditures have nearly quadrupled over the past two decades.

While the Trump administration considers current and perhaps future justice reinvestment initiatives, I urge the president to consider investing in state-level prison education programs that have been proven to work at reducing recidivism rates. By investing and educating inmates now, taxpayers will save millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on re-incarcerating those inmates.

A commitment to investing in inmate education up front will save taxpayers money in the long run while concurrently reducing crime. Arecent study from Lois Davis, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, shows that for every dollar spent on education programs (including basic education, GED and post-secondary education), between four and five dollars are saved on reincarceration costs.

Without an education, there is a greater likelihood that a former inmate will return to prison within three years of release. A National Institute of Justice study found that within three years of release, more than two-thirds (67.8 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested. This costly cycle of incarceration, rearrest, and recidivism ultimately places a huge financial burden and drain on the American taxpayer.

Fortunately, data consistently shows that education drastically reduces the likelihood that an inmate will reoffend upon re-entry into society. For example, when inmates receive vocational training, the recidivism rate drops to approximately 30 percent. The recidivism rate drops to 13.7 percent with an associate’s degree, and to 5.6 percent with a bachelor’s degree. Once an inmate receives a master’s degree, the recidivism rate is approximately zero.

Advancements in technology have provided new methods for us to educate prisoners before they re-enter the “real world.” For example,jails are providing inmates with tablets that allow them to participate in customized education curriculums. In fact, these programs may be more effective than traditional learning alternatives. The RAND study also found that students exposed to computer-assisted instruction or e-learning as compared to traditional instruction “learned … more in reading in the same amount of instructional time and substantially more in mathematics.”

The tablets provided to inmates come with security features to prevent unauthorized usage or direct internet access, and their rugged design with clear casing makes the tablets more durable and less suitable for concealing contraband, ultimately  increasing security within a facility.

Inmates frequently face a technology gap when they leave prison — they don’t know how to download items, click on links, or search for jobs. In 2017, these basic digital skills are essential for successful re-entry into society. Without the skills needed for modern employment opportunities, many former inmates will turn back to crime to survive. Exposing inmates to education and new technologies increases the likelihood that they will search for jobs and contribute to society upon re-entry.

While some may not see the value behind spending tax dollars on educating inmates, the fact is that far more money is spent on imprisonment costs when an inmate is re-incarcerated. Modern technology, combined with proper assessment tools, evidence based management and credentialed content, provides the opportunity to educate those who are motivated to re-enter society so they can have a future that is more beneficial than a life of crime. Aristotle said, “Poverty is the parent of crime and revolution,” but access to education is what breaks this cycle of recidivism

I call on members of Congress and the administration to make the needed investment in inmate education that will prepare the incarcerated for productive and legal employment upon release. This investment will ultimately save taxpayers nationwide from the recurring costs of maintaining prisoners in jail year after year.


Dr. Turner Nashe is the senior vice president of education services at GTL.

Update: This post has been updated to include Dr. Nashe’s current position.

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