By Rebecca Gray
The United States has become, to borrow an apt title from a 2013 Bill Moyers special, Incarceration Nation. (http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-incarceration-nation/) While Moyers’ program focused on the disproportionate number of racial and ethnic minorities behind bars (minorities comprise more than 60 percent of the prison population), the problem transcends racial issues. The prison population in the U.S. grew from 300,000 in the 1970s to over two million today, and the U.S. has a higher rate of incarceration than any other nation. We spend billions of dollars every year to keep people behind bars.
The U.S. prison system has been widely and justly criticized for its failure to rehabilitate and the high rate of recidivism. Nationwide, 40 percent of released prisoners are back in the system within three years of their release. (http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/sentencing_and_corrections/State_Recidivism_Revolving_Door_America_Prisons%20.pdf) (For more links to information on national recidivism rates, see this page on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) site: https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/QA/Detail.aspx?Id=46&context=9.)
Though there are conflicting opinions about the best ways to prevent recidivism, there’s good evidence that education and training programs within the prisons play a significant role in helping participants stay out of trouble once they are released. Like everything else, however, education requires funding, which isn’t always forthcoming. And that’s just one of the big challenges facing correctional education today.