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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Education in Prison: Saving Money

www.jeantrounstine.com


Andrew Cuomo is pushing to bring college education back to prisons in New York. As much flack as he's been getting about the plan, statistically, it is in the best interest of the people of his state to offer inmates some form of concrete knowledge and useful, non-criminal skills in order for them to be able to reenter society as law-abiding, productive citizens. In the NPR article on the subject, it was stated that educating incarcerated people would cost too much. Feel free to check my math, but, according to the numbers, this is completely untrue. Yes, the project has a cost. However, that cost far outweighs the benefits and monetary savings that would be a result of having inmates receive an education while in prison.

Take the example of a child being sent to a corner for 'time out' after calling their classmate 'annoying'. While they're sitting in the corner, there isn't much happening to them that's going to change their behavior. Their annoyance with their classmate, rage at their teacher, and frustration with being put in the corner might subside after a few minutes, but they haven't gained any new knowledge or skills to help them deal with the situation differently in the future.

If, however, the child happens to have a thoughtful, healthy teacher, he may come over in the middle of the 'sentence' and let the child know that calling someone 'annoying' is inappropriate and that he won't tolerate it in his classroom. Letting the person know what exactly they did that was wrong and why it was wrong is a great first step.  In an ideal world, the teacher might go on to ask what the child was annoyed by, talk a little bit about the child's other emotions during the incident (just to let them get it off their chest and express some of those unpleasant emotions so that the child doesn't carry that around with them), and then give the kid some actual alternatives for dealing with the situation should a similar one arise. This might include asking the kid not to do whatever they did that was annoying or telling the teacher instead of reacting on their own.

It's a lot more helpful for people who are incarcerated to work towards gaining skills that will help them stay out of prison once they are released.



Housing Inmates Without Educating Them

Cost / Numbers

Service / Statistic

Source
$60,000
Correctional Facility Housing
$180,000
Cost to house inmate for average sentence length of 3 years
Pew States
 
25,000
Number of inmates released in New York every year
$4.5 billion
 
Cost of having housed those 25,000 inmates for the past 3 years
$180,000 x 25,000
50%
12,500 inmates
Number of 25,000 inmates released who recidivate within 3 years of release
25,000 / 2
$2.25 billion
Cost of housing 12,500 inmates for another 3-year sentence
$4.5 billion / 2
$6.75 billion
Cost to house original 25,000 inmates and re-house the 12,500 who recidivate for another 3 years.
$4.5 billion + $2.25 billion

 






Housing and Educating Inmates
Cost / Numbers
Service / Statistic
Source
$60,000
Correctional Facility Housing
$5,000
Cost to educate an inmate per year
$195,000
Cost to house and educate inmate for average sentence length of 3 years
Pew States
25,000
Number of inmates released in New York every year
$4,875,000,000
 
Cost of having housed those 25,000 inmates for the past 3 years
$195,000 x 25,000
35.5%
8,875 inmates
Number of the 25,000 inmates released who recidivate within 3 years of release if they’ve all received an education.
Prison Studies Project states that education during incarceration reduces recidivism by 29%. Reducing the current 50% recidivism rate by 29% leaves us with a 35.5% recidivism rate.
$1,597,500,000
Cost of housing 8,875 inmates who recidivate for another 3-year sentence without educating them again
8,875 inmates x $180,000
$6.475 billion
Cost to house original 25,000 inmates and re-house the 8,875 who recidivate for another 3 years.
$4,875,000,000
+
$1,597,500,000

 

$6,750,000,000 - $6,475,000,000 = $275,000,000

Taxpayers actually end up saving $275 million each year when they educate inmates instead of merely housing them. The number of savings only grows when we factor in not having to clean up the damage left behind after crimes are committed by 29% more people recidivating, and we add in the fact that most of the people being released are going to now have the education to go on to get jobs. Having a job means paying taxes from your income, doing legal work that you are paid for, and using your earned money to buy goods and services (on which you often pay taxes). All of these events help grow the economy, and all of these are greatly reduced if prisoners aren’t given an opportunity to earn a degree while incarcerated.

In general, getting a formal education can have some lasting, positive benefits for people who are allowed access to it. This is exactly why so many parents are willing to make various social and financial sacrifices to get their children to a university. However, is casting a group of people away from being allowed these benefits, especially when they seem to be in dire need of an intervention like being provided with a college-level education, really worth the state paying an extra $275 million every single year and the crime rate going up instead of down? This is the question that Cuomo has posed, and his answer is pretty clear.

I'd definitely say it's not worth it, based on the numbers alone.


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