New Research: College-in-Prison Programs Dramatically Reduce Recidivism
One of the great failings of America's prison system is that it does very little to rehabilitate prisoners. As a result, our recidivism rate is among the highest in the world.
Harvard Political Review: "Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons. Another nine million are released from local jails. Within three years of their release, two out of three former prisoners are rearrested and more than 50% are incarcerated again."
By way of comparison, Norway has a 20% recidivism rate. Their prisons are focused on rehabilitation and education, while ours largely gave up even trying to help prisoners start new lives upon their release. Beginning in the 1970s with President Richard Nixon's War on Drugs, America abandoned rehabilitation and focused almost solely on warehousing prisoners. The prison population was growing quickly in the 1970s and 80s and rehabilitation was thought to be too expensive and a waste of resources.
During the last decade, however, there has been some new thinking about our dismal recidivism rate; prison education programs are expensive, but if they reduce the number of inmates that re-offend, perhaps they pay for themselves.
Rand.Org: "Now, state and federal policymakers are considering a range of strategies for reducing mass incarceration, and such changes include correctional education initiatives. RAND research shows that correctional education can help reduce recidivism and improve post-release employment outcomes, saving taxpayers money. This research is at the forefront of helping to inform the debate and guide policymakers' efforts."
"[A] recent report by the RAND Corporation … found that for every $1 investment in prison education programs there is a $4-5 dollar reduction in incarceration costs during the first three years post-release of a prisoner."
And there is a growing body of evidence to support the Rand Corporation's thinking. A new study of the Bard College Prison Initiative [BPI] published in Justice Quarterly found a large and significant reduction in recidivism rates across all racial groups among those who participated in their college-in-prison program in New York State. And the decline was significant.
American Association for the Advancement of Science: "The study found that participation in BPI reduced recidivism 38 percent, and greater levels of participation correlated closely with even lower rates of recidivism. Rates fell across racial groups, even as BPI enrolled a student body broadly reflective of the prison population, which is disproportionately Black and Latinx."
Bard created the program in 2016 after the Obama Administration introduced the Second Chance Pell Grant Pilot Program that offered federal aid to select universities with in-prison programs.
Bard's initiative is widely acknowledged as one of the most rigorous college-in-prison programs in America. Inmates are held to the same elite standards as Bard students on their main campus in New York. And experts are convinced that the program's rigor has a lot to do with its success.
The recidivism among BPI graduates is 4%, compared with the usual 50% or higher among all inmates released from prison. And, Robert Tynes, associate director of research at BPI, thinks that similar high quality programs could become an essential tool to rehabilitate inmates and dramatically lower America's dismal recidivism rate.
You can watch a Ken Burns/PBS video on the Bard Prison Initiative here.
By: Don Lam & Curated Content