To the editor: There is a highly underplayed success story going on in our prisons today. Where college access is offered to inmates, they often not only thrive but tend to stay out of jail at much higher rates than the unschooled.

The idea that prison education prevents recidivism is apparently more than a naive hope. A compilation statement by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found high rates of recidivism among released prisoners. One study found that about 67.8 percent were rearrested within three years of release. More than 76 percent were rearrested within five years. Many believe this is because, on average, they are under-educated. This leads to lower quality of life or just less employment, increasing the lure of crime. Recidivism has many causes, and it’s been long recognized that lack of education is a key factor. We need to go beyond giving just GEDs and targeted vocational training and raise the stakes to also provide paths to associate and bachelor’s degrees. 

The United States' federal budget spent more than $80 billion on housing prison inmates since 2010, with the majority of the burden put on states. According to a compiled report, education programs cost about $1,400 to $1,744 per inmate each year, and can save prisons between $8,700 and $9,700 per inmate, reducing the costs associated with incarcerating them again. To put it another way, each dollar spent on funding prison education programs reduces incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three years after an individual is released, the period when those leaving prison are most likely to return.

Inmates showing initiative and desire who have at least minimal high school prerequisites deserve a second chance; a more advanced education is one option that shows results. Federal and state governments should focus on supporting rehabilitation and reducing recidivism instead of spending more to just warehousing a growing prison population.

So far, 43 out of the 50 states provide fewer than 10 programs. These 43 states need to expand their offerings of programs. There is a logical argument for higher prison education as a cost-effective way to reduce crime among other long-term multidimensional benefits.

Last but not least, this issue should not involve politics. Keeping people out of prison by giving them an appropriate level of education should be a common-sense, bipartisan, and goal.

BJ Steigner, New York