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Move to privatize prisons threatens genuine inmate reform

The statistics are overwhelming and irrefutable: The less education a person has, the more likely he or she will end up in jail or prison.
Once in prison, the more education an inmate receives, the greater the chance he or she will remain free once released.
“The correlation is so dramatic, I can’t understand why we as a nation are more interested in building and filling prisons than in educating people who haven’t finished high school or could benefit from post-secondary school,” says advocate Adam Young, citing a recent Huffington Post news story about Corrections Corporation of America. The business is attempting to buy prisons across the nation – with the stipulation that states agree to keep them 90 percent full.
Young, who runs communityservicehelp.com, partners with charities to help people sentenced to community service get credit for taking classes like algebra and English instead of picking up trash. He says it just makes sense to take advantage of any opportunity to educate people who’ve already had a brush with the law.
“About 40 percent of all U.S. prison inmates never finished high school, and nearly 44 percent of jail inmates did not complete high school,” he says, quoting from a 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. “More current data shows that hasn’t changed. In Washington, D.C., for instance, 44 percent of Department of Corrections inmates are not high school graduates. Less than 2 percent had 16 years or more of schooling.
“Isn’t it better for all of us, for both economic and public safety reasons, if we help educate people so they can get jobs?” he asks.
The trend of budget-strapped states looking to economize by selling their prisons to Corrections Corporation worries Young. As the business cuts expenses to boost profits, prison-run GED and college degree programs will likely be among the first on the chopping block, he says.
“If states really want to save money, they should address recidivism through programs that include education,” Young says. “There’s a 2011 Pew Center study that found the 10 states with the highest recidivism rates could save $470 million a year, each, if they lower those numbers by just 10 percent.”
Those states are Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas.
A widely cited 2006 study of two groups of inmates in three states found that those who participated in education programs in prison were less likely to be arrested again within three years of their release, and more likely to be employed. Of the inmates tracked, 31 percent of those who did not take classes were back in prison within three years compared with 21 percent of those who did study.
Arizona, South Carolina and Nevada all have recently passed laws that allow inmates to cut their sentences or shorten their probation by doing things like taking classes, Young noted.
“In early February, there was an interesting conversation about education and crime on Real Time with Bill Maher,” he says. “Maher said, ‘If you spent the money you were spending to send people to prison on schools, those people wouldn’t wind up going to prison.’
“He’s 100 percent correct on that.”
Adam Young is a longtime internet marketing professional who launched his educational community service alternative in January 2011.

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Published: March 01, 2012 – Volume 10 – Issue 46



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