Special to the Las Vegas Tribune
Prison inmates who receive general education and vocational training
are significantly less likely to return to prison after release and
are more likely to find employment than peers who do not receive such
opportunities, according to a new RAND Corporation report.
The findings, from the largest-ever meta-analysis of correctional
educational studies, suggest that prison education programs are cost
effective, with a $1 investment in prison education reducing
incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three years
“We found strong evidence that correctional education plays a role in
reducing recidivism,” said Lois Davis, the project’s lead researcher
and a senior policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research
organization. “Our findings are clear that providing inmates education
programs and vocational training helps keep them from returning to
prison and improves their future job prospects.”
Researchers found that inmates who participate in correctional
education programs have a 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison
than those who do not. The estimate is based on studies that carefully
account for motivation and other differences between correctional
education recipients and non-recipients.
Employment after release was 13 percent higher among prisoners who
participated in either academic or vocational education programs than
those who did not. Those who participated in vocational training were
28 percent more likely to be employed after release from prison than
those who did not receive such training.
The findings also suggest that prison education programs are cost
effective. The direct costs of providing education are estimated to be
from $1,400 to $1,744 per inmate, with re-incarceration costs being
$8,700 to $9,700 less for each inmate who received correctional
education as compared to those who did not.
While the results consistently demonstrated the benefits of prison
education programs, researchers say there is not yet enough evidence
to determine which educational programs performed the best.
“Our findings suggest that we no longer need to debate whether
correctional education works,” Davis said. “But we do need more
research to tease out which parts of these programs work best.”
The study, which was supported by the U.S. departments of education
and justice, should be of interest to corrections officials and state
lawmakers as they cope with operating prisons during difficult budget
There long has been debate about the role prison-based education
programs can play in preparing inmates to return to society and
keeping them from returning to prison. Recidivism remains high
nationally, with four in 10 inmates returning to prison within three
years of release. While most states offer some type of correctional
education, surveys find no more than half receive any instruction.
In general, people in U.S. prisons have less education than the
general population. In 2004, 36 percent of individuals in state
prisons had less than a high school diploma, compared to 19 percent of
the general U.S. population older than 16.
In addition, ex-offenders frequently often lack vocation skills and a
steady history of employment. Researchers say the dynamics of prison
entry and re-entry to society make it hard for ex-offenders to find
work and build an employment history.
RAND researchers conducted a comprehensive review of the scientific
literature of research on correctional education and performed a
meta-analysis to synthesize the findings from multiple studies about
the effectiveness of correctional education programs. A meta-analysis
is a comprehensive way of synthesizing findings from multiple studies
to develop scientific consensus about the efficacy of a program or an
The analysis was limited to studies published about education programs
in the United States that included an academic or vocational
curriculum with a structured instructional component. The analysis
focused on recidivism, but also examined whether education improved
labor force participation and gains in academic achievement test
scores. The study did not access life skills programs.
Programs that offered instruction toward a high school diploma or
general education development (GED) certificate were the most common
Studies that included adult basic education, high school diploma/GED,
postsecondary education and vocational training all showed reductions
Because of overlaps in curriculum and a lack of detail about the
duration of instruction, researchers could not determine what types of
programs worked best.
Researchers also examined the relationship between computer-assisted
instruction and academic performance, which is important in prisons
because the technology allows self-paced learning that can be
delivered at a lower cost than traditional instruction.
The study found some evidence that computer-assisted instruction
further improved math and reading achievement among inmates, but the
findings were not strong enough to reach a final conclusion.
“As corrections officials struggle to cope during a period of
constrained government spending, prison education is an approach that
may help save money in even the short term,” Davis said.
Funding for the study was provided by the federal Bureau of Justice
Assistance. Other authors of the study are Robert Bozick, Jennifer
Steele, Jessica Saunders and Jeremy Miles.
The project was conducted within the RAND Safety and Justice Program,
which conducts public policy research on corrections, policing, public
safety and occupational safety.