NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Studies Show Education Reduces Recidivism

November 16, 2001

Prison inmates who receive schooling -- through vocational training or classes at the high school or college level -- are less likely to return to prison within three years of their release. Those are the conclusions soon to be released in a pair of studies.

  • A study undertaken for the Department of Education found that 22 percent of 3,000 prisoners in Maryland, Minnesota and Ohio who had taken classes returned to prison.
  • But among the group that had not attended school while behind bars, the return rate was 31 percent.
  • The Open Society Institute took up the same question in a study of women at the Bedford Hills Correctional Institute -- New York's only maximum-security prison for women -- and found that fewer than 8 percent of former inmates who took college classes in prison returned to prison during the three-year period after release.
  • The recidivism rate among those who had not participated in the college courses was almost 30 percent.

However, experts have suggested the possibility that women who were most motivated to avoid reincarceration were the ones who signed up for the college classes.

Educational opportunities for inmates vary widely by state, with half or fewer prisoners getting some form of education in most states -- and, increasingly, there are waiting lists of others who want classes.

Source: Tamar Lewin, "Inmate Education Is Found to Lower Risk of New Arrest," New York Times, November 16, 2001.


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