Educate to rehabilitate

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Education shouldnt be a last ditch effort to save someone from a life of crime — it should be the very first step. 

In a storyline worthy of Hollywood, three inmates of a maximum-security facility in New York debated their way to victory over Harvard College undergrads on Friday, Sept. 18.

The inmates are members of the Bard Prison Initiative, a privately-funded program that offers a college education to prison inmates in six facilities throughout New York state.

Of the programs past participants, less than 4 per cent have re-offended upon release.

The success of privately-funded educational rehabilitative programs, such as Bard, provide precedent for instituting similar publically-funded programs.   

The Bard Prison Initiative is just one more example of the importance of education in crime-prevention.

Repeat offenders pose a troubling issue for prison systems around the world. They signal that the system didn't work, that the punishment was ineffective or even debilitative.

Isolation from society, while touted as a necessary measure for public safety, often leads to a lack of intellectual stimulation and social interaction. Such deprivation can seriously degrade an inmate's ability to integrate and function in society.

Most of these problems can be combated by increasing access to educational rehabilitative programs, which in turn open doors to employment.

A barrier to providing education to prisoners, however, is that inmates are often considered unworthy of receiving an education.

Some crimes are beyond forgiveness, the reasoning goes, and their perpetrators have sacrificed their right to participate in and benefit from public affairs, so why should taxpayers bear the brunt of paying for their education?

But both the interests of public safety and cost effectiveness are served by limiting recidivism rates.

Delaying offendersaccess to rehabilitation programs costs Canada an extra $26 million a year, according to Auditor-General Michaels Ferguson. The financial burden of supporting those whove been incarcerated far outweighs the cost of providing that education.

Prisoners who demonstrate a willingness to participate in educational programs should have an equal chance to make the best of their lives. 

And theres both a need for education and a willingness to earn it in Canada.

In Canada, 82 per cent of federal inmates test at a completion level lower than a Grade 12 education when theyre admitted, according to the Correctional Service of Canada.

40 per cent of inmates in Canadian prisons are enrolled in an adult basic education program that covers up to Grade 10.

Approximately 25 percent of inmates take advantage of vocational education, and another 25 per cent participate in secondary education which goes until Grade 12.

Less than 10 per cent pursue post-secondary education, which they pay for themselves.

Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers, stated in his 2012-13 report that The single largest barrier to effective participation in work and vocational skills programs is not inmate disinterest, but rather the shortage of meaningful work and training opportunities.

Why wouldnt we publicly fund the education of those who have demonstrated through their interest in education that theyll be less likely to re-offend? Surely that would be money well-spent.

Journal Editorial Board

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