The United States of America currently incarcerates 2.2 million people. We have more people behind bars than any other country.
The people in America’s prisons are disproportionately from minority, low-income, and socially marginalized communities. The experience of incarceration and the consequences of having been to prison - including institutionalized barriers to social welfare programs, housing, employment, voting, higher education, and more - leaves formerly incarcerated people even more likely to remain poor and marginalized. Though the United States spends upwards of $86 billion on corrections each year, incarcerated people are given few resources to facilitate successful re-entry. 90 percent of incarcerated people will be released, but 40 percent will return to prison within three years. Cyclical recidivism weakens communities and families and, in doing so, perpetuates social and economic inequalities.
Education has repeatedly been shown to be one of the most effective ways to decrease both crime and the financial and societal costs of incarceration.
Researchers at UCLA’s Department of Policy Studies found that while $1 million spent on corrections prevents 350 crimes, the same amount spent on education in prisons prevents 600 crimes. A recent study by the RAND Corporation determined that those who participated in correctional education programs were 43% less likely to return to prison than those who did not. Beyond reducing recidivism, education also positions people to successfully re-enter society and make positive impacts on their families and communities.
Providing high quality education programs in correctional facilities is both challenging and costly.
The literacy level of incarcerated people is well below that of the general population, and between 35 and 40 percent of people in prison have not completed high school. For these reasons, there is a high need for quality education at a variety of learning levels. Meeting the needs of all students is challenging in the best of classrooms, and classrooms in correctional facilities face the additional challenge of underfunding. In 1994, Congress prohibited people in prison from receiving Federal Pell Grants, significantly reducing higher education programs in correctional facilities. Since the economic recession, many Departments of Corrections have had to cut resources for all educational programming. These cuts further limit the Departments’ ability to provide the variety of programs and resources that would best meet the educational needs of incarcerated people.
This is where the Petey Greene Program is working to make a difference.
Since 2008, the Petey Greene Program has been actively working to supplement education programs in correctional facilities – at no cost to prisons or taxpayers.