By Martin Maximino
The United States has the largest prison population in the world, with more than 2.2 million inmates in federal, state and local facilities. Although the number of life sentences has quadrupled since 1984, every year approximately 700,000 citizens leave federal and state prisons in the United States to begin a new life. Moreover, the number of releases from U.S. prisons in 2012 exceeded that of admissions for the fourth consecutive year, contributing to a slight decline in the total U.S. prison population.
The professional and personal lives of these individuals after they leave prison show great variety, across different states and income levels. Many ex-offenders struggle to reintegrate into their communities and face significant challenges in re-entering the job market. In this context, recidivism often ensues: The Pew Center on the States suggests that perhaps half of all inmates released will return within three years. But the story of their life challenges typically begins even before conviction and prison time.
A 2014 U.S. National Research Council report authored by some of the nation’s reading criminal justice scholars notes: Many people enter prison with educational deficits and could benefit from education while incarcerated. Literacy rates among prisoners generally are low, and substantially lower than in the general population. Over the past 40 years, the percentage of prisoners having completed high school at the time of their incarceration fluctuated between