Policy Impact

Offenders read books and write papers at a library in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas

Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

In the past 40 years, the U.S. incarceration rate has more than quadrupled. From 1980 to 2010, incarceration rates for drug offenses increased tenfold. These trends, along with high levels of recidivism, have shined a spotlight on corrections reform.

Now, state and federal policymakers are considering a range of strategies for reducing mass incarceration, and such changes include correctional education initiatives. RAND research shows that correctional education can help reduce recidivism and improve post-release employment outcomes, saving taxpayers money. This research is at the forefront of helping to inform the debate and guide policymakers' efforts.

Federal Impact

RAND's impact has been demonstrated at a federal level by the debate over Pell Grant eligibility for prisoners.

First, legislators are considering restoring Pell Grant eligibility for prisoners. The bill under consideration, the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act, cites RAND's research:

"[A] recent report by the RAND Corporation … found that for every $1 investment in prison education programs there is a $4-5 dollar reduction in incarceration costs during the first three years post-release of a prisoner."

In July 2015, the Department of Education announced a new program—the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program for Incarcerated Individuals—to make Pell Grants available to incarcerated individuals. The announcement noted the program builds on existing research to examine the effects of restoring Pell eligibility, also citing RAND research:

"High-quality correctional education—including postsecondary correctional education—has been shown to measurably reduce re-incarceration rates. By reducing recidivism, correctional education can ultimately save taxpayers money and create safer communities. According to a … study from the RAND Corporation, incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who didn't participate in any correctional education programs."

In 2016, President Obama's budget for fiscal year 2017 included measures to strengthen Pell Grants, including expanding coverage to prisoners eligible for release under the Second Chance Pell Program.

"The Second Chance Pell proposal expands opportunity to incarcerated individuals eligible for release with the goals of helping them get jobs and strengthen their communities."

In November 2016, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. commented on the recent results of the U.S. PIACC survey of Incarcerated Adults that found that their literacy and numeracy skills were far weaker than those of average U.S. adults. He called for more high-quality education programs within correctional facilities, citing RAND's research findings that showed for every dollar spent on correctional education, four to five dollars may be saved on three-year reincarceration costs.

"The evidence shows that correctional education programs have the potential to decrease crime, save money, and change lives. High-quality correctional education has become one of the most effective crime-prevention tools at our disposal".

President Barack Obama cited RAND's findings in his January, 2017 article in the Harvard Law Review, "The President's Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform."

"Studies have shown that inmates who participate in correctional education programs have significantly lower odds of returning to prison than those who do not, and that every dollar spent on prison education saves four to five dollars on the cost of reincarceration."

State Impact

RAND research has been cited in proposed legislation in California [PDF], and plans to expand higher education to incarcerated individuals in New Jersey and New York. Legislation in California proposed by Senator Loni Hancock to expand access of inmates to community college courses (SB 1391 was passed in April 2014) has also cited RAND research:

"The recent RAND report … is part of the impetus behind the provisions in SB 1391. The reliance on Community Colleges in SB 1391 is strengthened by the findings in the report as well."

International Impact

British magazine Prospect named RAND as a Runner Up for US Social Policy in the Think Tank of the Year Awards in 2015 for its work on prisoner rehabilitation and the role of education for inmates.