Root Cause III: Lack of Education

It is widely know that young black males today are more likely to end up in prison than in college.  Cindy Rodriguez at the Denver Post calls it the “Jailhouse track”.  When kids drop out of high school they put themselves at an immense risk of ending up in jail.

But, not much is done in the criminal justice system to address this risk factor that is likely to return inmates to the system once they are released.  Colorado misses an opportunity to make the state safer when it fails to properly address this root cause of crime. While Colorado specific information on the education levels of prison inmates is hard to come by, nationally we know that:

In 1997, state prison inmates’ educational levels were:

14.2% had an 8th grade education or less;
28.9% had some high school education;
25.1% had a GED;
18.5% were high school graduates;
10.7% had some college education; and
2.7% were college graduates or had advanced degrees.

About 70% of the adults in Colorado overall are high school graduates.

There is no reason to think that Colorado’s inmates are significantly atypical.

Educating prisoners in no panecea, but it has been proven to reduce recidivism in those who undertake it (citations in original omitted):

The Three State Recidivism Study found that re-arrest, reconviction, and re-incarceration rates were lower for the prison population who had participated in correctional education than for non-participants. The differences were significant in every category. The study found:

the re-arrest rate of correctional education participants was 48%, compared to 57% for the non-participants;
re-conviction rate was 27% for correctional educational participants, compared to 35% for non-participants; and
re-incarceration rate was 21%, compared to 31% for non-participants. . . .

A study of recidivism rates conducted by the Virginia Department of Correctional Education found that:

of those who had no educational programming (1,037 persons) while incarcerated, 49.1% were reincarcerated in the Virginia Department of Corrections;
of those who enrolled in an academic program (469 persons) but did not complete it, 38.2% were reincarcerated; and
of those who completed an academic program (451), 19.1% were reincarcerated.

As another example: “[I]n Ohio, while the overall recidivism rate was 40 percent, the recidivism rate for inmates enrolled in the college program was 18 percent.”

According to an article in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of Correctional Education by James S Vacca, there is widespread documented evidence in a large number of carefully done studies that prison education reduces recidivism.

This only makes sense.  About 46% of people in prison in Colorado, and a far larger share of crimes committed and persons convicted of crimes but not sent to prison, are there for either property crimes or drug crimes.  Both are economically motivated crimes, and an education makes alternative to this life of crime more workable.

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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