3 Things That Will Revolutionize Prison Education

By Jay Derragon

The majority of people in prison are not hardened criminals; they are good people who have made bad decisions. Yet the current educational system in prisons leave little room for good people to learn how to avoid bad decisions. As W. Edwards Deming said: “A bad system will defeat a good person, every time.”The current system of prison education is not doing enough to empower behavioral change and rehabilitation of minds. The current “system of education” within prisons is antiquated, ineffective, costly and ripe for change. A transformation in methods, means, and thinking is desperately needed.

How Well Is The Current System Working?

Since 1985, the number of people incarcerated has jumped from about 744,000 to over 3.3 million in 2011. That represents an overall increase of more than 400%. While all sectors have grown over that time period, the highest growth was in the federal prison population, which increased by 473%. Increases in the other sectors ranged from 175% in state prisons to 178% in local jails. “The current correctional rehabilitation system is obviously is not working”.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) reported in 2011, that nearly 7 in 10 people who are formerly incarcerated will commit a new crime, and half will end up back in prison within three years. Given that about 95 out of every 100 incarcerated people eventually rejoin society, it is crucial that we develop programs and tools to effectively reduce recidivism.

The United States, with an incarcerated population of 3.3 million, and growing, has the largest prison population of any country in the world. The US spends approximately $72 billion on corrections each year.

Each dollar spent on funding prison education programs reduces incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three years after an individual is released, the period when those leaving prison are most likely to return. Correctional education is almost twice as cost-effective as a crime control policy so the challenge is to find a way to deliver quality educational resources to more prisoners at lower cost.

Digitizing the Prison Educational “System”

The current educational system within prisons is resource intensive in terms of human and capital expenses associated with delivering an education to prisoners. While the internet could provide more educational resources the thought of providing access to the internet in prisons is enough to make any administrator cringe. Contraband, cell phones and cameras have set the precedent that technology inside the walls connected to the outside cannot be trusted.

Conversely, adopting secure technology that reduces cost and insures security risk could be made available with educational resources to all prisoners 24/7. By adopting proven hardware (such as varied sized tablets) and simultaneously integrating secure software and operating systems, substantive improvements in education could be made within jails/prisons. Many services such as commissary, education, medical and legal video visitation, could be offered over a single secure technological platform. The consolidation of already offered services can insure security while simultaneously reducing costs. Inmates would no longer need to be transferred and transported across campuses in order to receive multiple services. The opportunity is to embrace digital transformation of the old system and create a new system that enables good people to transform their minds and subsequently their future choices.

A “new system” that uses integrated and advanced digital technology solutions that enable increased participation and access to educational resources can be created at lower cost. The “new system” has the potential of enhancing the human potential and reversing historical recidivism trends. Such a “system” has been designed by Dr. Turner Nashe, President of IDS, using three components that revolutionize prison education:

  1. Low Cost Secure Digital E-Reader
  2. Software solutions that enable secure content delivery and management of access
  3. Academic, Vocational and Spiritual media that enables the transformation of the mind

The three components create expansive access to technology advancements that improve effectiveness and efficiency of rehabilitative educational programs. The “new system”, called CorrectionEd, can be customized to meet the requirements and desires of any correctional institution, both State and Federal. State Correctional and Rehabilitation Departments have recently adopted the new system.

Creating More Value at Lower Cost

The Digital Era has transformed industries, institutions and governments. The transformation has created new social behaviors influenced by access to knowledge 24/7. The lessons learned from these transformations have demonstrated that technology accelerates learning and enables people to expand their understanding from what they learn.

The tablet pc creates new learning experiences. Cost barriers to using them have also been obliterated. Access to knowledge that transforms our thinking is now available to anyone and people are consuming it 24/7. Teaching is no longer constrained to a classroom or teachers being physically present. Learning has become a self-guided experience of discovery for anyone, anywhere and anytime. Before now, due to security concerns, prisons had been excluded.

We know that educating inmates provides the promise of changed behavior and reduced recidivism. These results enhance human potential, reduce cost and improve outcomes.

A good system enables good people to learn how to make good decisions. It is time that we enable good people to do better by giving them a better learning system. This is how prison education will be revolutionized.