What Does RAND Say about Prison Education?

Rand Corporation

By Christopher Zoukis

RAND Corporation is massive. Its people number 1,850 across 50 countries, representing 80 languages. More than half of the researchers hold one or two doctorates, and 38 percent hold one or more master’s degrees. Together, this team performs research and analysis so that public policy can be challenged and changed through evidence-based findings. Basically, RAND wants to make the world a better place through research.

Just some of RANDS’ research areas include homeland security and public safety, international affairs, science and technology, workers and the workplace, and law and business. It is no surprise, then, that RAND is a very important organization for many high-level decision-makers, including the U.S. Department of Justice, whose Bureau of Justice Assistance sponsored a RAND report titled Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education: A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults (authored by: Lois M. Davis, Robert Bozick, Jennifer L. Steele, Jessica Saunders, Jeremy N. V. Miles).

RAND is known for its careful research and rigorous peer reviews that ensure objectivity and accuracy; so, Prison Education was very interested in what this report had to say. We were not disappointed.

The key findings are not overly surprising – at first. Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education notes that “correctional education improves the inmates’ chances of not returning to prison.” Well, plenty of studies have already proven that! Where it gets interesting fast is when the report touts the numbers: “Inmates who participate in correctional education programs had 43 percent lower odds of recidivating than those who did not. This translates to a reduction in the risk of recidivating of 13 percentage points.”

Forty-three percent and 13 percentage points is a very big deal. This not only proves that prison education works, but it also shows that it actually cuts the chances of recidivism nearly in half!

There is more good news to glean from the key highlights. Prisoners that received an education were 13 percent more likely to find gainful employment after their release; and, correctional education is a cost-effective strategy for reducing recidivism.

With taxpayer money always front of mind, anything that reduces the costs of housing a prisoner, while not compromising their wellbeing, is ideal. Rather than cut food costs and jeopardize the nutrition needed to help balance mood and support health, providing education is clearly a more winning strategy.

And these strategies are sorely needed. Currently, a prison stay in California costs more than a year of study at Harvard, according to the Los Angeles Times. With costs to house inmates doubling in California since 2005 (and some other states also reporting rising rates), any positive strategy that has the one-two punch of cutting costs (while not negatively impacting the prisoner) while slashing recidivism should be widely recognized and welcomed.

One key point that intrigued us was this: “Inmates exposed to computer-assisted instruction learned slightly more in reading and substantially more in math in the same amount of instructional time.”

While education of any sort goes a long way in rehabilitating prisoners, it turns out that the delivery method for that education is equally important. It looks like there is something about computer-assisted instruction that is more beneficial than just book-and-paper learning. Indeed, some of these prisoners were incarcerated before the rise of the Internet, tablets, and smartphones. Learning on devices that will be a part of their daily life once paroled is essential.

This RAND report can be downloaded for free from the website, and you can also purchase a copy to help support RAND, and it’s outstanding research work.

RAND is an essential organization for policymakers, and one of those organizations that genuinely strives to make the world a better place. The Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education report is an important and informative document that proves the effectiveness of prison education and helps policymakers bring about lasting change.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily NewsPrison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.comPrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.

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What Does RAND Say about Prison Education?
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What Does RAND Say about Prison Education?
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RAND is known for its careful research and rigorous peer reviews that ensure objectivity and accuracy; so, Prison Education was very interested in what this report had to say. We were not disappointed.
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