In Florida, one in four released prisoners is re-incarcerated—and it’s a lack of education that’s largely to blame.
With the average Florida inmate having just a sixth-grade education, the chances of finding steady work at a living wage are slim. Add a criminal record that turns off most viable employers, and many former inmates feel like they have little choice but to return to crime to support themselves. It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s one that a proposed bill aims to break.
The bill is aimed at inmates not facing life sentences in Florida, and its details include that if those inmates complete their high school education while behind bars, they’ll become eligible to be released two months early.
Barney Bishop, president and CEO of the lobby group Florida Smart Justice Alliance, has stated, “Part 1A is getting them [the inmates] the education. Part 1B is then getting them that job and if we can do those two things, then the chance of them recidivating (sic) is diminished.
“It makes them proud of themselves, more importantly, it makes them understand that if they work hard, they’re diligent, that they have the opportunity to succeed, ” Bishop said.
Corrections Secretary Julie Jones agreed, saying, “Present programming to inmates, encourage them to do the program and get the education, get the additional skills, [and] reward them for that, so we put out a better citizen when they leave prison.”
Providing educational services that give inmates a high school education, combined with mental health and addiction treatment, has proven to be a successful formula in other states.
Lola Davis is a senior policy researcher and professor at the University of California. One of Davis’ recent projects was Assessing the Effectiveness of Correctional Education. She and her team looked at three decades of research to measure the effect that education had on inmates, and they concluded that any type of program, from adult education to GED classes, and post-secondary education or vocational training, reduced the risk of recidivism by 13 percent, and increased to 16 percent for those that took post-secondary courses.
In addition to gaining marketable skills, inmates benefit from the mental and physical effects of higher education, which, in turn, also helps to reduce recidivism rates. A University of London-based research paper titled What are the Effects of Education on Health concluded the following based on international evidence:
· Education is strongly linked to health and healthy behaviours
· Education reduces the need to use preventative services
· Education reduces dependence on the health care system
· Education reduces financial dependence and human suffering
· Education promotes and sustains positive choices
· Education nurtures personal and interpersonal relationships and development
· Education supports the well-being of communities
This reduction in recidivism is not only beneficial for prisoners themselves. Thousands of tax dollars are saved with each early release, and with each former inmate that remains reformed. In Florida, this reflects up to a $3,000 in savings for each inmate that is released two months early.
Education is a key component to reforming inmates and keeping them from returning to prison. In addition to learning self-supporting skills, education positively affects the behavior and social and mental wellness of the learner. A mandate to actually reform—rather than merely punish—prisoners is an effective way to help boost the general health, happiness, wealth and safety of the country.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com.