Aug 22, 2013
In the largest-ever meta-analysis of U.S. correctional educational programs, RAND researchers found compelling evidence that the prison-based programs not only work but also are cost-effective. Correctional education will likely face near-term budget cuts in many states, but its high return on investment should remain a high priority in future state budgets.
Of the more than 700,000 people that U.S. prisons release each year, 40% of those released inmates end up back in prison within three years.
Prisoners say they need education and job training to reintegrate into society. They’re right: 68% of inmates in state prisons lack a high school diploma.
Most state correctional institutions offer primary, secondary, vocational, special, or college education programs. 84% of state correctional institutions offer some type of education or training.
Knott and Keen are hypothetical inmates. How does the use of their time in prison affect their lives after release?
Knott wasn’t able to enroll in correctional education of any kind. Had he enrolled in any such program (vocational, special, or academic), his odds of obtaining employment would have increased by 13%.
Like other ex-offenders who participated specifically in vocational training programs, Keen increased her odds of getting a job by 28%.
Inmates who participate in correctional education programs have a 30% chance of recidivating, compared with 43% for those who do not. That’s a 13-percentage-point drop in the risk of recidivism for those who participate.
The cost of correctional education programs per participant is $1,400–$1,744. Nearly a third of participants still recidivate. But the average savings per participant from reduced reincarceration rates is $8,700–$9,700 over three years. Even assuming the highest average cost ($1,744) and the lowest average savings ($8,700), the three-year return on investment for taxpayers is nearly 400%, or $5 saved for every $1 spent.