On Monday in Austin, President Barack Obama reflected on Lyndon B. Johnson’s legacy 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. He spoke too about the policies his own administration has overseen, and the civil rights victories of recent years.
But one thing President Obama has not been able to tackle is corrections system. The number of people incarcerated in the United States has quadrupled since 1980. Today, Americans make up 5 percent of the world population but the U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, with more than 2 million people locked up.
Nearly half of all ex-prisoners return to prison within three years for committing new crimes. How can we do a better job of “correcting” and reeducating prisoners to break the cycle of recidivism? One answer could be college. Research suggests that inmates who participated in prison college programs are 43 percent less likely to return to a life of crime. But the idea of giving prisoners a college education remains unpopular.
Former New York City Corrections and Probation Commissioner Michael Jacobson, who is now the director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance and professor of sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center, weighs in.