The prison system is a complex, multi-faceted entity. The impact of prison education is similarly far-reaching. The above Prezi aims to illustrate many of the different elements affected by a prison education program.


Recidivism reduction is one of the most prevalent themes in prison education. Recidivism refers to returning to prison after release, whether due to parole or probation violations or to committing another crime. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a study of prisoners released in 1994 in 15 states saw a 67.5% recidivism rate. Recidivism contributes to the growing numbers in prison, leading to overcrowding and subpar conditions.

Numerous studies indicate that educational programming reduces the recidivism rate, meaning individuals once released are less likely to reoffend or violate parole or probation. The above Prezi refers to a recent one in Indiana, which is particularly interesting both because it is one of the most recent studies and because it takes a comparative approach in analyzing the effects of education. Conducted in 2012, it examines the differences between inmates who participated in educational programming against those who did not. The study found that those who did participate were dramatically less likely to recidivate. Furthermore, those who did were less likely to recidivate due to a new offense.

In doing the comparison, the study illustrated how individuals going through the same facilities can behave differently when given access to education. Prison numbers can be reduced, leading to improved conditions. The lowering of new offenses also means the public can be safer.


Employment is an important step in the reentry process, but employers are often hesitant to hire the previously incarcerated. Employment is also more difficult when the individual has little education – inmates are more likely than the rest of the population to have not completed high school . These two factors severely lessen their chances of employment.

Graph from the study LEARNING to Reduce Recidivism, sponsored by the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Click the graph to see the study.

Graph from the study LEARNING to Reduce Recidivism, sponsored by the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Click the graph to see the study.

The Indiana study also examined the employment situation of individuals after release. The study found that inmates without educational programming were more likely to have a job in the first few months following release – but these jobs were lower paying and less sustainable than those attained by individuals who participated in educational programming. Employment is an important step in reintegrating into society and relates significantly to decreasing the chances of recidivism.


Education and employment affect more than just the individual involved – it can also affect their family. A study of a women’s prison in New York suggested that women who participated in educational programming while incarcerated became more invested in their futures, and therefore better parents. A parent attaining a degree behind bars also provides inspiration to their children, as reported in the study.

This type of inspiration is especially important due to the noted relationship between prison and the poverty trap, in which long sentences lead to depressed neighborhoods and financially troubled families. Breaking this trap can lead to better prospects for children and safer neighborhoods.


Correctional facilities make up an increasingly large portion of local, state, and federal expenditures. According to the Vera Institute, in 2010, California allocated $9 billion to prisons – and accrued $969.7 million in prison-related costs outside the department’s budget. Each prisoner cost the state $47,421. California was by far the most expensive prison system – but other states demonstrated costs nearing or over $1 billion.

Another recent study of the California budget revealed a correlation between increased spending on prison and decreased spending on higher education. With the decreased spending on higher education, students shouldered the blame through hiking fees and tuition. Reducing recidivism would mean fewer people  locked up, and those funds can be reallocated.


Education can also have a profound effect on the individual. The Prezi includes two videos with testimonials from incarcerated individuals on how education affected their lives. Although this is difficult to quantify, such testimonials illustrate the profound spiritual and intellectual influence of education upon an individual.