A new study highlights U.S. prisoners’ lack of education, and the secretary of education has taken the opportunity to issue a “Dear Colleague” letter arguing for educating them. It’s a good idea.
According to the study from the U.S. Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies,” 29 percent of inmates fell below a fairly simple level of literacy.
That level, set out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, required an individual to perform tasks such as find the “contact us” link on a website if asked to locate the organization’s phone number.
Education Secretary John King Jr. points out that most inmates will return to society.
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He says that once they’re released, inmates who are educated in prison are 58 percent more likely to find a job and 43 percent less likely to return to crime than those who are not.
Inmates are interested. Among those in the study, 70 percent said they’d like to take a class or program. A quarter of those who wanted to enroll were on waiting lists to do so. Meanwhile, just 21 percent of inmates in the study were working on a degree or certificate.
The report does not make clear why all the inmates who want more education aren’t pursuing degrees or certificates.
One reason, however, is clear from the waiting lists: There aren’t enough opportunities available, or the opportunities available don’t meet the inmates’ needs.
So more seats should be opened in prison educational programs.
But considering that many of the inmates lacked a fairly basic level of ability to understand written information, which is fundamental to gaining knowledge, these basic skills should be emphasized. Prison systems should mandate that inmates who lack basic skills learn them, whether they want to or not.
It’s better to give a convict education while he or she is in prison than to provide a prison cell again later. It’s better for their lives. It’s better for the taxpayer. And it’s better for the person who would have been the victim of his next crime.