We discussed, how inmate education reduces recidivism and saves money, but those are not the only benefits of educating prisoners. Prisoner education has been shown to reduce violence, have positive effects on children of the incarcerated, and change lives.

Education Reduces Violence

“I am convinced that imprisonment is a way of pretending to solve the problem of crime. It does nothing for the victims of crime, but perpetuates the idea of retribution, thus maintaining the endless cycle of violence in our culture.”

-Howard Zinn, Author of You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times 

Directors of prison education programs often cite prison education programs as resulting in a noticeable improvement in prison conduct. Disciplinary infractions often decline among prisoner students, during their studies. One director said that incarcerated students will often police themselves out of fear of losing their education program. One report concludes that “changes in behavior can be attributed to improved cognitive capacity as well as to the incarcerated person having the opportunity to feel human again.”

Incarcerated people who are enrolled in college classes commit percent fewer infractions than incarcerated people who are not enrolled in classes. One recent study even shows that higher education in prison helps tares down racial barriers in the prison setting. The Correctional Association of New York even says that “the prison officials have often recommended reinstating college programs because of their multiple benign effects: providing an incentive for good behavior; producing mature, well-spoken leaders who have a calming influence on other [incarcerated individuals] and on correction officers”. According to their report, providing educational opportunities communicates the message that society has genuine respect for human potential of the incarcerated, communicating the message that society has sufficient respect for the human potential of incarcerated people.” 

Positive Effects on Children of the Incarcerated

When someone else’s happiness is your happiness, that is love.

Lana Del Rey, American Singer/Songwriter

There are a significant number of children affected by their parents’ incarceration. In America, 2.7 million children (1 in 28) currently have a parent behind bars. More than 5 million children have had a parent incarcerated at some point in their lives. 

The negative effects of incarceration on the children of the incarceration is well documented. Younger children often experience “disorganized feelings and behaviors upon their parent’s incarceration and older children displaying more antisocial behavior, conduct disorders, and signs of depression.” Older children may experience trauma-reactive behaviors or premature termination of the dependency relationship with a parent, which can lead them to intergenerational crime and incarceration. There is a growing body of evidence that children with incarcerated parents are more likely to end up in jail or prison than children who never had a parent incarcerated. Children with fathers who have been incarcerated are also more likely to be expelled or suspended from school.

But college education might help to combat the negative family effects. An incarcerated parent with a college education opportunity may set a good example for these children. A study of the Bedford Hills College Program found that children expressed pride in their mothers’ academic achievements at the prison college program. They were inspired to take their own education more seriously and were often motivated to attend college themselves. When children are inspired to take education more seriously, they see alternatives to dropping out of school, thus breaking a harrowing cycle of intergenerational incarceration. Those who stay in school are far less likely to engage in a pattern of criminal activity.

Thus, postsecondary prison education programs offer a chance to break the intergenerational cycle of inequality. An increasing number of studies are confirming this. And this often extends beyond the parent-child relationship. I can tell you personally that my own brother was inspired to complete his education because I finished my own. 

The Way Forward

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

If it is so obvious that prison education would be good for everyone, then why is the opposite happening? It’s because our lawmakers react to public fears. But reactive measures are never as good as proactive ones. They push for more prisons, harsher sentences, and fewer programs behind bars. They do it in the name of protecting the public. 

At the same time, recidivism is higher than it’s ever been, so it’s clear that something is missing. Maybe it’s time to reintroduce the rehabilitation. Yes, it’s important to protect our citizens, but wouldn’t they be much safer if there were actually less recidivism? If prisoners would return to society with the skills they need to model citizens, wouldn’t all of society be better off? 

Prison-based education is among the most effective of all crime prevention programs nationwide. Prison education changes lives. It teaches the willing learner how to think critically and express themselves honestly. It trains people to react in constructive ways and the skills necessary to develop healthy, long-lasting relationships. In business and in life, we need responsible citizens. Education requires that we examine ourselves, promotes moral thinking, and builds character. 

But prison education isn’t just about changing minds, it’s about transforming lives. To survive in today’s world, there is only one thing proven to make the difference, education. Education opens the doors to better wages, more satisfying jobs, and professional acceptance. Most inmates long for the same things that all of us do. They want to provide for their family and be respected as a decent person. Education makes this all possible.

Education is the way forward. Beyond correspondence courses, prisoners would benefit from classroom experiences. The inmate is hungry for information. Whether it’s a high school completion program, a partnership with a local college, or vocation education, the inmate benefits. Looking ahead, we all benefit when the new man enters the marketplace.