The Case for Higher Education in Correctional Settings

For the first time since I can remember, the case against higher education is being made by the mainstream media. Arguments centered upon the true value of a higher education are being presented. The question asked is: "Is higher education really worth the time and expense of pursuing one?" What a profoundly foolish question to present!

Since the age of academic and social enlightenment, a common sense, no-questions-asked protocol has presented itself concerning education in general. The protocol states that first a child goes to elementary school, then middle school and high school. After high school, the socially acceptable and economically advantageous move is to go to college. After college, the person enters the workforce.

This protocol has worked as intended for many years and it has remained virtually the same. The lack of change, in terms of the basic principles of the protocol, shows that it not only works, but works well. As such, those who abide by this elementary school through college protocol generally do well in life and are considered successes, while those who do not abide by the educational protocol tend to fail at a significant rate.

When considering this discussion for those outside of prison, a gray chasm presents itself. This is because most people succeed in life at some basic level, whether in the lower class, middle class, or upper class. I suppose that in this regard a roof over one's head, food on the table, and a job could be considered being a success. Though, naturally, the higher level of education obtained coincides directly with which social class, and therefore relative level of success, a person resides in.

For those incarcerated, the outlook is much bleaker. In the general public, most people have obtained a high school diploma or some college. In prison, most have not even obtained a high school diploma. And when they do strive to further their education, they are usually stopped at the GED-level of studies; a level which affords not much in terms of social status or earning potential.

With a GED and a criminal record in hand, these troves of recently released inmates -- around 800,000 each year -- can generally aspire toward being in abject or relative poverty or, at most, the working poor. None of which promotes a law abiding or necessarily comfortable lifestyle.

The same principles which govern educational attainment with relative success apply to both those who have been incarcerated and those who have never had any contact with the criminal justice system. This is not something new or special. This is common sense. We dont need to prove that an education will help a former prisoner succeed because we know that an educational will help anyone succeed.

The question then becomes: "If an education is directly linked to success in life -- and staying out of prison -- then why do we still refuse to educate those in prison?" This is certainly a worthwhile question. If we know it works, and at the same time reduces incarcerated populations and corrections' costs, then why all the controversy?

Do we as Americans now want to reduce the number of inmates behind bars? Do we not want to use those billions of dollars in savings each year for something truly important such as higher education for ourselves and our children?

As I see it, the current inertia of reducing recidivism rates and corrections' costs through correctional education is preposterous. We know it works, we know it's cost-effective, we know that we'll actually save billions of dollars more than we spend. Yet, the American public as a whole and even many inside the corrections' industry disagree with providing prisoners with the opportunity to obtain a higher education.

Now, what sense does that make?