U.S. college programs for incarcerated students were largely defunded in the ’90s. At the time, this was seemingly great news for “tough on crime” advocates, but this year, a new debate has erupted out of New York state. In February, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed an initiative to both educate New York’s prison population and save taxpayers money. It costs $60,000 per year to house an inmate in prison, and it costs an estimated $5,000 per year to provide higher education. “Right now, chances are almost half, that once he’s released, he’s going to come right back,” explained Cuomo. With the country’s high rates of recidivism, solutions that reduce that rate are the best method for reducing overall costs.
A 2013 joint study by the RAND Corporation and the Department of Justice also found that prisoners who participated in education programs, such as GED education, college courses, and other types of training, were less likely to return to prison after their release. The study, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education,” was the largest-ever analysis of correctional educational studies, and the findings indicate that prison education programs are cost effective. According to the research, a $1 investment in prison education reduces incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three years after an inmate’s release.