By Alison Shim
America has always been known as the land of opportunity, ensuring citizens a chance at a new start and a new way of life. However, more and more prisoners are reverting back to a life of crime even upon their release, primarily because employers across America are unwilling to give them a second chance. It’s time for the government and those in Congress to turn to prison education as the solution. By educating prisoners, they will be more likely to be able to assimilate back into society and are more qualified to enter the workforce. Rather than closing off former prisoners from society, our nation should begin taking strides towards giving every citizen an equal opportunity at a second chance.
The status quo reveals some alarming truths. According to a recent article published in Forbes Magazine, “In New York, forty percent of all inmates who are released will wind up back in prison within three years”. This cycle of recidivism is only made when accounting for the impact of the prisoner’s time of absence on their families. James Austin of the George Washington University Institute on Crime explains that when families across America lose parents to the prison system, their income for the period of the sentence drastically declines. Even more despairingly, after they leave prison, their ability to gain employment is drastically impaired. Thus, already lost income is barely able to recovered at all. Reduced income and instability in the family results in an unstable future for not only the former prisoners but for their children and families as a whole as well. Overall, prisoners are rarely given the opportunity to turn around their lives for themselves and for their children. Currently, a majority of prisoners fall under the poverty line and struggle to support themselves with a sustainable livelihood. Without means of affording higher-level education, employers simply deem them unqualified and inept for employment. The Rand Corporation reported that enhanced income correlates with enhanced education and opportunity within lower socioeconomic families. Essentially, the children of prison families often do not have access to either education or opportunity due to either their family situation, or lack of income from their parents. This burden is constantly relegated from the parents to the children, depriving former felons as well as their children from economic opportunity. Until significant change is catalyzed in society by either legislation in Congress or a shift in the social stigma against prisoners, the future for these individuals can never be anything but hopeless.
Many studies are now concluding that education for prisoners is the most effective solution currently on the horizon. Gerald Gaes of the Urban Institute concluded that there are significant social benefits to felon education. He explains that college education offsets the prisoner stigma, introduces a prerequisite to moral thinking, and provides the basis for integration in social communities. In doing so, felons are less likely to revert back to crime and are more likely to obtain employment in the workforce. Reducing crime mitigates violence in neighborhoods across America, benefitting every individual in the nation. A study of Missouri’s prisoners conducted by Forbes showed that reincarceration rates “were nearly cut in half for former inmates with a full-time job compared to similar inmates who are unemployed.” Ultimately, they concluded, “…every inmate who leaves the system saves that state an average of $25,000 per year. Nationwide, more than 650,000 people were released from state prisons in 2010. By cutting the reincarceration rate in half, $2.7 billion per year could be saved.” Overall, former inmates who are employed also are less dependent on public assistance and contribute more significantly to society in the form of taxes and consumption.
Educating prisoners is going to be holistically beneficial to our nation’s productivity, innovation, and efficiency. The economic and social benefits are far too significant to be overlooked. It’s time for America to be restored to the land of opportunity it once was and forgive these prisoners for crimes they have already repented for. By opening the door to prisoners, we can ultimately open the door to a brighter future for their families and for America.