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The Effects of Correctional Education on Recidivism- a Review of Literature

Essay by   •  April 4, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  5,642 Words (23 Pages)  •  1,676 Views

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America, one of the greatest industrialized countries, home to some of the wealthiest people in the world, has a growing problem of illiteracy among its citizenry. An even greater problem is the high rate of illiteracy among those imprisoned. America has more than two million people behind bars. This is more than any other country in the world, and more than three times as any country in Europe. These mostly illiterate dropouts and society rejects are like a cancer eating at the democratic core and economic substance of the nation (A. Newman 1993). Prison illiteracy is a problem that most educators are unaware of, most politicians refuse to acknowledge, most prison administrators are insufficiently trained to handle, and most taxpayers refuse to pay for.

A strong correlation exists between educational inadequacy and criminal behavior. Add to this mix other factors that contribute to educational disability, such as, marginalized factors of ethnicity, class, socioeconomic deprivations, and other uncontrollable disabilities, you have the formula for prison illiteracy (A. Newman 1993). Since there is a clear linkage between illiteracy and criminal tendency, it stands to reason that increased literacy would have a diminishing effect on criminality. A model literacy program focused on equipping inmates with the mental abilities to not only function, but to also contribute to society is needed in order to combat the high incarceration and recidivism rates.

In a society and economy that is ever more dependent on education not just for citizenship but for productivity, a life of expanded education and skills is increasingly needed. This growing demand for education has left a large percentage of the population disenfranchised. A large number of inmates incarcerated in state and prison systems function at below level literacy rates which makes it extremely difficult for them to meet the demands of society upon their release. The United States has a history of vacillating between rehabilitation and punishment for prisoners. The current mood is to devote resources to building more prisons and to strengthen law enforcement and sentencing policies. In order to reduce crime and to encourage criminals to give up crime as a lifestyle, the notion of prison rehabilitation requires rethinking. The correctional system has not been successful in its mission of reforming or creating a rehabilitative mind state in prisoners. In its current state, the system releases prisoners on probation to return to mainstream society ill equipped with the necessary survival tools to become positive contributors to that same society.

The recidivism rate for correctional institutions is exceptionally high, institutions whose main purpose is to deter criminal behavior through incarceration. Evident by the increasing construction rate of prisons, incarceration alone is not the answer. To get a maximized return on tax payers monies, a greater effort must be made to mainstream released prisoners back into society.

Nearly one in every 100 adults in America is currently incarcerated in jail or prison. In 2004, the results of a survey done in by the PEW Center on the States in collaboration with the Association of State Correctional Administrator (ASCA) showed that 43.3 percent of those prisoners released were reincarcerated within three years (The PEW Center on the States 2011). This high rate of recidivism and overall prison incarceration have caused federal and state annual spending on corrections to increase by more than 305 percent in the past two decades, a total of about 52 billion dollars (Brazzell, et al. 2009).

Research shows that individuals who are released from jail or other prison institutions are confronted with many challenges as they struggle to reconnect with their family and community. The difficulty that they have in becoming productive members of society often leads to repeat criminal activity (Brazzell, et al. 2009). The formulation of effective strategies to integrate the thousands of men and women released from prison or jail back into mainstream society is essential not only for them but for the health and well-being of the community at large. Confronting the problem of recidivism will allow both federal and state governments to reallocate the billions of dollars used to maintain, operate, and build prisons to some other areas of need (G. Gaes 2008). Policymakers need to recognize the importance of addressing recidivism to accomplishing better results for the correctional system.

While there has been considerable attention given to the necessity of providing workforce development, health, and housing to released inmates, very little attention has been paid to the role that in-prison and post-prison education plays in helping to totally rehabilitate and assimilate newly released prisoners (Brazzell, et al. 2009). Without education offenders are more likely to repeat the steps that led them to incarceration in the beginning. Education has been the vehicle for economic mobility and assimilation for immigrants and other disadvantaged groups of throughout the history of the United States. For people who have been involved in the criminal justice system, education is the only viable path job attainment, lower rates of recidivisms, and an overall improved society (G. Gaes 2008).

A barrier to inmates obtaining higher paying jobs once released is the accessibility to high-quality education. Many jobs in the U.S. require postsecondary training and/or college education. Adults released from prison or jails are overwhelmingly undereducated in comparison to the general population (Brazzell, et al. 2009). This under education and low literacy skills make it difficult to handle everyday tasks required to function in social arenas and the labor force (G. Gaes 2008). Inmates that earned a college degree returned to prison custody at a significantly lower rate (26.4%) that those inmates who did not earn a degree (44.6%) (Boudin 1993).

Based on research on the causes of recidivism, consideration of barriers and experience, the most promising approach for effecting change in this area maybe to enact policy that provides the opportunity for a high-quality secondary and post-secondary education on a rigorously and consistent basis at all correctional institutions. The Justice's Department Office of Correctional Education issued a Facts and Commentary in 1995 entitled "Pell Grants for Prisoners," in which it stated that "Pell grants help inmates obtain the skills and education needed to acquire and keep a job following their eventual release. Despite the position of policy experts within the federal and state government, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act effectively dismantled correctional higher education (Karpowitz and Kenner 1999). Reconsidering this act may provide the necessary ammo to defeating the increasing

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