Since the 1990s, prison education programs started getting shut down due to federal and state legislators cutting funds. So, the college degrees awarded to inmates went from 1,078 in 1991 to 141 in 2004. In 2015, President Obama created a pilot program allowing a limited number of inmates to receive Pell Grants to take college courses in prison. Since this action, more than 200 schools in 47 states have expressed interest in allowing prisoners to take their courses. Four of these schools, located in California, include: Lassen College, Antelope Valley College, Folsom Lake College and Chaffey College.
Currently, more than half of the prisoners released in the past have returned to jail within the first five years of being released; the recidivism rates are skyrocketing. However, according to the Atlantic, recidivism rates went down drastically because inmates were receiving degrees, keeping them out of prison. This is exactly what the states want to do again. Former inmates shouldn’t feel forced to return to prison simply because they can’t afford to live a decent life. Prison isn’t supposed to be a hotel you can come in and out of; it needs to be a place where prisoners can learn from their mistakes and become better society members. With these programs, prisoners will be encouraged to leave prison and do something beneficial with their lives.
The biggest problem with spreading these programs all throughout the states is, of course, the cost. However, providing a college education for prisoners will not only benefit them but it will benefit taxpayers and the state’s economy in the long run. The editorial board from The New York Times said, “The public saves $4 to $5 in re-imprisonment costs for every $1 it spends on prison education.” New Yorkers pay around $60,000 per inmate per year and 40 percent of them return to prison after three years for economically driven crimes. It turns out giving them an education is cheaper for everyone. Taxpayers will be killing two birds with one stone by saving money and helping prisoners contribute to the community with their education.
Also, more than 40 percent of inmates don’t have a high school diploma. So what can be expected from them once they are released? Not enough. That is why recidivism rates are so high. Most inmates return to committing crimes because they lack socialization, job training, education and support. Basically, prisoners don’t have many options once they are released. They continuously struggle to live once they are released and it becomes harder to find a job when employers dislike hiring people with a criminal background. Nineteen states and more than 100 cities and counties prohibit public agencies and sometimes private employers from asking their applicants about their criminal records. These states, cities and counties believe former inmates should have an equal opportunity to employment. Therefore, it becomes crucial for inmates to receive an education to be successful in this world.
Prisoners do want to have options. They want to be able to have a better chance at succeeding once they are released. Most inmates have been in prison for years and have served their punishment; now they just want to get an education, find employment and start a new life. This new opportunity opens up many doors for their futures.
California has already done its part by finding four schools to allow inmate participation in their courses. The number seems low, but this idea is still progressing nationwide. More and more states are working on giving prisoners an education they all deserve to benefit themselves and our economy.