U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. called for more high-quality education programs within correctional facilities – especially, since nearly all of America’s 1.5 million incarcerated individuals will eventually reenter society.
In a letter that coincides with a report showing low-literacy skills among the incarcerated, King urged states to make use of expanded resources under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. With help from that law, states can shrink achievement gaps, equip prisoners with skills and credentials to find meaningful employment and support successful reentry.
“In order to reduce recidivism, it is important for these individuals to become productive and contributing members of our society,” wrote King. “Providing these individuals with opportunity, advancement and rehabilitation is not only the right thing to do; it also positions our country to remain economically competitive in a global economy. To foster this reintegration and reduce recidivism, we as a nation must continue to expand and develop correctional education and reentry support programs.”
King’s letter follows the release last week of a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics that found literacy and numeracy skills among incarcerated adults are far weaker than those of average U.S. adults. In particular, more than half of adult prisoners lack the basic skills necessary for pursuing higher education, securing a job or participating fully in society.
The findings were contained in the study, officially known as the Highlights from the U.S. PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults: Their Skills, Work Experience, Education, and Training: Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies: 2014.
The report comes at a time when the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and more than 1.5 million prisoners in federal and state correctional facilities. Every year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from federal and state prisons.
King’s letter points out helping former prisoners who have paid their debt to society gain new skills increases their chances of living productive lives, thereby saving public dollars and making America safer.
For instance, a 2013 study from the Rand Corporation found incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education, which included remedial, vocational and postsecondary programs, were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who didn’t participate in any correctional education. The study also found the likelihood of committing another crime after being released from prisons was 13 percent lower for prisoners who took part in correctional education programs while incarcerated. Rand estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.
Last year, the Education Department launched the Second Chance Pell Pilot program to test new ways to allow inmates to receive Pell Grants and pursue the postsecondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs, support families and turn their lives around.
In 2014, the Education and Justice Departments announced a Correctional Education Guidance Package aimed at helping states and local agencies strengthen the quality of education services provided to America’s estimated 60,000 young people in confinement.
Earlier this year, the Education Department, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, announced $5.7 million in new grants aimed at improving outcomes for students who have been involved in the criminal justice system. The Department also released a new toolkit providing guidance to educators and others to support a successful reentry system for formerly incarcerated youth and adults.