The cost to incarcerate an adult is approximately $35,000 per year. The cost to educate a prisoner is approximately $2,500 per year. In a major national study, the RAND Corporation found that prisoners who become educated are 43 percent less likely to return to prison and that for every $1 spent on education, $5 is saved in reduced re-incarceration costs.
It seems that the most effective way to keep people out of prison or from returning to prison would be to give them the education and jobs skills they need to make them marketable employees. Seventy-five percent of state prison inmates have not completed high school or can be classified as low literate. Ninety-five percent of inmates are eventually reintegrated into our communities. Knowing that inmates who are educated are less likely to return to prison, why is the strong correlation to education being ignored?
States can’t just keep pumping money into the prisons with the hope that the problem of mass incarceration will go away. The first step to less crime and overcrowding of our prisons is to focus on education as a way to create functioning members of society and keep people out of jail. This will lessen the overall strain on the corrections system and free up money to use on programs like early education. Between 1990 and 2013, state spending budgets for jails increased on average by 40 percent, and 23 states spent twice as much on corrections compared to educational spending.
Ninety-five percent of prisoners will be released and will reside in our neighborhoods. Don’t we want these prisoners to succeed when they return to our communities? Don’t we want, and expect, released prisoners to become law-abiding, taxpaying, contributing members of our society? That will not happen without interventions that address the issues that led to their imprisonment in the first place. Education is a cost-effective method to reduce crime and create opportunities for success and employability.