When people are put in prison they lose the opportunity to go to college while being held and afterwards. This puts them at a disadvantage when released because they can’t get jobs that require more education. The National Former Prison Survey states that “formerly incarcerated people are often relegated to the lowest rungs of the educational ladder.” This is shown when you look at the rates of education for former inmates. According to the National Former Prison Survey, 25% of former inmates have no educational credentials at all and that’s not counting the number of current inmates that have no educational credentials. This clearly shows a disadvantage when coming out of prison and helps reveal why 27% of former inmates are unemployed.
Many jobs in today’s climate require some type of education whether it be a high school diploma, GED, or some college degree. It is difficult to find a job that doesn’t require some type of educational attainment. This puts former inmates at a disadvantage when coming out of prison. How are they supposed to afford college or further their education by getting a GED if they can’t get a job that pays well enough to support them? According to David H. Autor and David Dorn, only 26% of jobs are low-skill, non-service jobs . This statistic further proves that it is very difficult for a former inmate to thrive in the economic climate we have in 2018. When faced with these numbers it is easy to see why there are a high number of repeat offenders when 25% of white men and 60% of black women who were former inmates have not completed their high school education.
A large percentage (>60%) of former inmates have their GED instead of a high school diploma as compared to the 7-10% of the general population. While this may sound like a positive, and in a way it is, the person with the high school diploma is going to make an average of $1,541 more per month according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Also, the GED that can be obtained in prison doesn’t always come with the same opportunities as the GED you can obtain out of prison. A staggering number is that less than 1% of former inmates who got their GED in prison get a college degree. Less than 5% of former inmates get a college degree while 34% of the general population obtain a college degree. Put differently, 95% of former inmates never obtain a college degree, therefore holding them back in life when it comes to making the money they want to make. In-prison college programs have also been reduced which could be a major factor in former inmates not receiving any college in their lifetime.
Like most things in life, race and gender play a role in education among the formerly incarcerated. Among the people with no high school diploma or a GED, Hispanic women and Hispanic men are at the biggest disadvantage. Around 40% of Hispanic women have neither a high school diploma or a GED and about 35% of Hispanic men have neither educational credential. Less than 2% of Hispanic women have a college degree.
The time since being released also doesn’t mean that a college degree is more attainable. The data shows that there are slight increases in likelihood of getting a college degree the longer you have been out of prison, but the numbers still aren’t where they should be. Prisoners need to have more college opportunities while they are serving their time and lack of educational and vocational opportunity shouldn’t be a lingering collateral consequence of conviction. Reductions in funding for in-prison college degree programs presents one barrier to educational opportunity. Student loan, financial aid, and college admission applications that bar those with a felony conviction from entering college or receiving grant money to attend college presents another barrier. On average, 1 in 3 persons from the general public have a chance at attaining a college degree. The aforementioned barriers increase those odds to less than 1 in 20 for the formerly incarcerated having a chance at attaining a college degree. Our system is continuing to punish these people by making it more difficult to obtain the necessary education to survive in today’s world. Rather than stacking the odds against them, educational opportunities for incarcerated persons need to be promoted while ensuring opportunities for the formerly incarcerated exist to gain actual employment in the community post-release.
Jared Swiney is a junior at the University of Charleston majoring in psychology and is a member of the University Singers choir at UC. Jared interned with Public Defender Services this fall as part of his criminology class.