It’s safe to say that prison inmates are by far the most largely observed group of people in the world. Most of their moves are captured digitally by security cameras. They are always accounted for and literally counted by the number assignment they are provided. They are overseen by prison administration day in and day out. Their mail is open and checked. Their phone calls are scanned. Their visitors are logged. They have a calculated system from the time they are told to open their eyes in the morning to the time they are told to go to sleep. The public can find them by name on directories and even discover each individual’s sentence as well as when they are being released. What is such a mystery among the most observed population in the country is how many of them are taking college courses.
Although there isn’t precise data on their education, there is data on their contributions. There are exact numbers of the thousands of inmates working under the California Prison Industry Authority within the 34 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation institutions. These inmates work on assignments in one of the organization’s 100 manufacturing, service, and consumable factories throughout California’s prisons. This is a government program that has prison inmates manufacture consumer goods and contains more trackable data than any education program implemented throughout the state.
Much of the social inequality in America has been fueled by the rapid growth of prison inmates. With only 5% of the world’s population, the United States houses 25% of the world’s prisoners (often for nonviolent offenses). These prisoners are among the most poorly educated people in the country, which, in fact, contains the key to a much larger solution. This group of people have little access to social mobility and inequality in regard to education. However, research shows that education reduces recidivism. Children with parents in the prison system have high odds to become incarcerated themselves. On the same token, children who have parents graduating college are much more likely to seek higher education as well. It’s a simple cycle that can not only reduce the current recidivism rates of inmates but also eliminate a future generation of crime. When it comes to public and lawmakers’ opinions on the children however, these facts are ignored. The general consensus reflects the idea that money should not be spent on inmate education; hence the charmingly named “Kids Before Cons” Act.
Despite extensive expenditures into the housing of incarcerated people in this country, there is little to no emphasis on the funding of education for these people that would be proven to reduce their return to prison. The RAND corporation is the mega analysis system holding these research facts. Over 30 years of prison and education research estimates that every $1 spent on education translates into a savings of $4 - $5 on prison costs down the line. To put that in perspective, this is a $70 billion a year industry. A lot of people are making money off of the warehousing of inmates. I’m no mathematician, but if you can save up to $5 for every $1 you spend, that’s A LOT less than a $70 billion annual profit. So in the case of our society, profit trumps social equality and equal access to the basic need of education for this group of human beings.
Most of it boils down to politics; Legislators (even the ones who are aware it costs about $60,000 per inmate per year) are worried about public opinion so they will argue that spending public money on inmates is an insult to law-abiding taxpayers. It also comes down to entitled opinion. People who either don’t understand all of the socio-economic factors centered around the prison population, or those who fail to empathize with these human beings, have their own opinions as to why education is unnecessary for them.
In an effort to resolve concerns around whether or not this population “deserves” equal access to the basics of higher education, I have a suggestion: Why not revamp one of these multi-million-dollar corporations that “employ” prisoners for nickels a day and use that money on education programs for the incarcerated? If they are working to educate themselves then shouldn’t that cut down on some of the scrutiny to their college access? Some of that money could also go to other social welfare programs or even basic sanitary and personal hygiene needs available for purchase through their commissaries, but I digress.
My personal feelings in concern of the discarded populations in our society are simple. I believe we are all one move, decision, or circumstance away from being in their situations. Take it how you want. Have you ever made a mistake and said “whew! that could have gone a lot worse”? Have you ever had something really bad happen to you and thought about the possible domino effect, which could leave you jobless or homeless? Could you imagine even being in the wrong place at the wrong time or trusting someone that you should have never relied on? Every one of us can relate to being human. We should not have to question how we look at others or how to treat others humanely. Equal access to education should be a real thing. Put aside public opinion on the social undesirables and debates of whether they deserve it or not. The facts are clear. Inmates are human beings and inmate education saves a lot of money and makes our communities a lot safer.
What does an effective inmate education program look like? How has education impacted your life?