Thursday, August 15, 2013

Pathways to Opportunities for Ex-Offenders

When formerly incarcerated individuals reintegrate into the community, they face a number of barriers to employment, education, and access to services. If current trends continue, over half of released inmates are bound to return to prison within three years. To combat this issue, it is essential to reduce and avoid the possibility of recidivism.  One important way to do that is through workforce development and education programs for inmates while in prison.
Research has shown that higher education is directly linked to reducing recidivism rates; however, inmates have extremely limited access to programs that provide education and training. Education increases human capital and improves general cognitive functioning while providing specific skills, and for inmates, it can help to obtain and maintain employment while also deterring criminal activity. Education and training provides ex-offenders with marketable skills essential for employment and dramatically improves their outcomes, so making quality education programs accessible to inmates can minimize the obstacles for ex-offenders during their reintegration – which ultimately leads to safer communities for all of us.
This commentary from Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity highlights the drastic limitations of incarcerated students, especially after their Pell Grant eligibility was removed in 1994—since then, higher education programs dropped from 350 to 8 for inmates nationwide. Up to that point, Pell Grants had been the primary source of funding for higher education programs in correctional facilities. Though some states have been able to provide funding streams to fill the gap, many of the effects are still present and impacting thousands of people who will return to the community.
The removal of Pell Grant eligibility and the deep cuts in education programs increased the already disparate outcome of educational attainment among the incarcerated population. The number of incarcerated individuals receiving postsecondary education in prison dropped by 44%. Only 17% of state and federal prisoners had some level of postsecondary education compared to 51% of the population outside of prison, and only 65% of state and federal prisoners had diplomas or GEDs, compared to 82% of the population. Additionally, 7 out of 10 prisoners who had a GED reported obtaining it while in prison, which demonstrates just how important these programs can be in helping inmates obtain their education.
Another important consideration is that inmates are not the only ones that are affected—the multiple barriers ex-offenders face affect their innocent children and entire families. An important statistic to keep in mind is that 1 in every 28 children in the United States has a parent behind bars, and failed reintegration harm both ex-offenders and their children. Policies to support employment for reintegrating ex-offenders support the well-being and economic success of both generations, as well as do much more to ensure community-wide safety and economic growth.
To read the commentary on Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, click here.
For more information on Promoting Workforce Strategies for Reintegrating Ex-Offenders – including providing the needed supports and services that help their families thrive - click here and here.

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