As we have pointed out in past articles on this blog, the last couple of decades have seen increased crowding in our jails and prisons. Since about two-thirds of those released are re-arrested within three years, and about half reconvicted, it’s time to reconsider the purpose of incarceration. No longer can we accept the traditional principle of “lock them up and throw away the key.” Instead, we must consider recent research findings that show many prisoners can be rehabilitated, through education and training, and eventually contribute constructively to society upon their reentry.
While illiteracy and poor academic performance are not direct causes of criminal behavior, young people with insufficient education and/or poor literacy skills are disproportionately found within the criminal justice system. The National Center for Education Statistics recently released Literacy Behind Bars: Results From the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy Prison Survey, the first assessment of the English literacy of incarcerated adults since 1992. It looks at the relationship between literacy, criminal history, and current offense, and compares the literacy of adults in the prison and household populations and across groups of prison inmates. The report finds that both male and female inmates had lower average literacy than adults of the same gender living in households, and that a higher percentage of prison inmates had been diagnosed with a learning disability.
Other studies, from the Correctional Education Association (PDF) and the Open Society Institute (PDF), present data on the impact of education on crime and crime prevention, and examine the debate on providing higher education to inmates. They find that education programs can reduce the likelihood of repeat offending and improve public safety.
Education has been proven to be a great catalyst for change. These studies find that correctional education works, and that it can be particularly positive for juveniles in helping them acquire the skills they need to be responsible, independent members of society. As a cost-effective and continually beneficial approach, education is one the most successful means we have of preventing and reducing crime.