Among the foremost criticisms of the American prison system is that it acts like a “factory to produce more criminals.” When prison life is stark, brutal, and dangerous, it hardens inmates and does little to help them find a new path in life after release.

The incarcerated often face difficulties finding employment upon release. Overall, the “prison penalty” that increases unemployment rates is 14% for white men and 37% for black women.

Black women who have been incarcerated experience elevated levels of unemployment after they are released. Overall, the “prison penalty” that increases unemployment rates is 14% for white men and 37% for black women. Limited access to gainful employment also correlates with repeat offending. 

This is what experts call recidivism — a return to prison to serve another term for a new or repeat offense. In the United States, the recidivism rate is 26%. The cost to society for this “revolving door” prison system is enormous – not to mention the cost in terms of life experience and loss of potential.

However, experts say there are many ways way to break the corrosive cycle of recidivism. It’s offering inmates post-secondary educational opportunities.

Consider that inmates who take advantage of post-secondary education in prison are 48% less likely to return to prison. Part of the reason is that prisoners who benefit from higher education are 12% more likely to get a good job after getting released.

Furthermore, federal statistics show that for every $1 spent on correctional system education, $4 to $5 is saved on recidivism costs. Studies show that post-secondary education inside prisons is especially beneficial to minority  communities . The benefits for women are even greater. 

Providing educational options is prison is especially beneficial for minority groups. Many members of minority groups have had an inferior schooling experience causing them to be become ensnared into what some call the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The reality is that the U.S. prison population is disproportionately made up of people who grew up in racially segregated communities. Post-secondary prison education has been shown with powerful statistical proof to be a force for advancing racial equality. This is especially the situation among black and Latinx groups that received substandard K-12 educations before they became offenders. 

By making up for the educational opportunities missed before people enter the U.S. prison system with classes offered while serving sentences, the vicious cycle of the school-to-prison pipeline can be disrupted and mitigated.

Providing prison education remains controversial because of certain perceptions of what prison experienced should be like among specific segments of the public. Many people balk at the idea of “rewarding criminals” with free college educations. Yet these criticisms fail to offer an alternative option for closing the revolving prison door and ensuring that inmates experience of serving time have positive transformative effects 

The overall benefit to society of providing educational options in prison is simply too consequential to ignore. Providing post-secondary education to inmates is a way to uplift everyone, and build a better society. 

Think about how you might be able to raise awareness about this important yet often-unmentioned topic. It is important for the general public to advance the options of prison education, as this will bring more attention to the need for secondary education to incarcerated individuals.