June 08, 2018

Credit: AP Photo / Elaine Thompson

Despite having less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States has nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population. According to Elizabeth Hinton, an associate history professor at Harvard University, America’s prison system is unlike anything the world has ever seen. She says it’s crucial that we focus on rehabilitating inmates through educational activities inside prisons. We talked with her about the past, and the uncertain future, of prison education in America. 

Three Takeaways: 

  • One main reason prisons are investing in educational programs is that they reduce recidivism rates. In Germany, which is known for the many classes it offers prisoners, only one out of every three inmates is rearrested within three years of being released. In the U.S., that rate jumps to three out of every four people. 
  • Hinton says that, more so than race, education level predicts the likelihood someone will be incarcerated. Because of that, she says prison could act as a way to address the issue of undereducation and provide opportunities for people who grew up without real learning opportunities. 
  • Some people wonder why prisoners should get free education if it’s not even available to everyone in society. Hinton says it comes down to the almighty dollar. “It’s much cheaper to educate people than to imprison people.” And if fewer people are getting rearrested, costs will go down.   

More Reading:

  • Want to know more about Hinton’s thoughts on prison education? Read her New York Times op-ed on the subject. 
  • Obama-era Pell grants that offer thousands of inmates educational opportunities are set to expire. Learn more about them in The Marshall Project.
  • NYU and the Wallkill Correctional Facility teamed up to produce and showcase prisoners’ written pieces. You can read them here.

Education, university, college, Elizabeth Hinton, prison

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