Having a college education is necessary to compete for many jobs, and the stakes for ex-offenders are higher than for others. This Perspective summarizes research on the effectiveness of educational programs in reducing recidivism and lessons learned from one state's experience in providing college programs to incarcerated individuals. Focusing on the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative, it outlines key issues to address.
- What do we know about the effectiveness of correctional education and recidivism?
- What has been the experience of states in implementing in-prison college programs and lessons learned?
- What options are available to sustain the long-term funding of these programs?
- What should be the focus going forward in this field?
Each year, more than 700,000 incarcerated individuals leave federal and state prisons and return to local communities where they will have to compete with individuals in those communities for jobs. In today's economy, having a college education is necessary to compete for many jobs, and the stakes for ex-offenders are higher than they are for others. There are different perspectives about whether postsecondary programs in prison should lead to academic degrees or industry-recognized credentials. Drawing on past RAND research on correctional education and focusing on the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative and the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education initiative in North Carolina, this Perspective summarizes research on the effectiveness of educational programs in helping to reduce recidivism, key lessons learned in providing college programs to incarcerated adults, and remaining issues that need to be addressed, including how to ensure long-term funding of in-prison college programs and the need for an outcomes evaluation to learn from the Experimental Initiative.
Providing access to college education for incarcerated adults can help reduce the nation's substantial recidivism rates
- For successful reentry, the educational and skills deficits of incarcerated individuals need to be addressed.
- Correctional education and postsecondary programs are effective in reducing recidivism.
- Correctional education is also cost-effective.
- There are a number of challenges to implementing prison education programs.
- Restoring access to Pell Grants will help address some, but not all, of the funding support needed for in-prison college programs.
- Besides restoring Pell Grant eligibility, other options should be considered for ensuring long-term funding of in-prison college programs.
- An outcomes evaluation of in-prison college programs and the Pell Experimental Initiative is needed to inform how best to provide these programs.