Editorials

Can education be the savior for prisoners?

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Under federal law, jail inmates under age 21 are entitled to a free public education, and can enroll in school programs toward earning a high school diploma or GED credential.
Under federal law, jail inmates under age 21 are entitled to a free public education, and can enroll in school programs toward earning a high school diploma or GED credential. AP

Sometimes it feels like we are wasting money on a broken system.

Texas spends almost $2.8 billion annually to house about 150,000 inmates.

Over 56 percent of prisoners are rearrested in the first year after release. The percentage grows as the years tick by, says the National Institute of Justice.

So not only is the state spending billions on incarcerating felons, but the system also doesn’t produce fully positive results.

Instead, it creates a prison cycle in which ex-prisoners are trapped by poverty and believe that crime is their only option.

“The current system is expensive, and it exacerbates the social problems it is charged with controlling,” one 2010 study says.

But there is one thing that can lessen frustrations: education.

“The legitimate labor market opportunities for men with no more than a high school education have deteriorated as the prison population has grown, and prisoners themselves are drawn overwhelmingly from the least educated,” the 2010 study says.

A new pilot program aims to change that dynamic.

The Second Chance Pell Pilot Program will allow inmates to receive grants for higher education, the first time since 1994.

“Through this initiative, the Department of Education aims to support the successful transition of justice-involved individuals out of prison and back into the classroom or the workforce,” says the department’s fact sheet on the program.

The program, starting next month, will affect about 2,500 Texas inmates. This will build up the education program, one that has been reduced tremendously because of budget cuts.

The state’s Windham School District caters to inmates and helps them get their GED or trade certifications, but the Second Chance Pell Program will help inmates go one step further and obtain their associate or bachelor’s degrees.

A 2013 study from the Rand Corp. says inmates who participated in correctional education programs were 43 percent less likely to relapse.

“Our meta-analysis of the literature on incarcerated adults suggests that correctional education programs are highly cost-effective in helping to reduce recidivism and improve postrelease employment outcomes,” the Rand study says.

Critics think Pell grants are the wrong way to tackle the right problem, but without any other actionable solutions, the pilot program is the best bet to start the arduous journey of fixing the criminal justice system.

Quality education is the beacon of hope to reduce recidivism.

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