Recidivism is the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend. It is a term used when released criminals are re-arrested, re-convicted and re-incarcerated.
The key finding of the 2013, RAND study titled, A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults, which looked at 58 studies of correctional educational programs in the United States, found that inmates who participated in correctional education programs had 43 percent lower odds of reoffending than inmates who did not.
Education also improved their chances of obtaining employment after release by 13% compared to inmates who did not participate in correctional education.3
Another study in Western Australia found the same thing: "the more classes completed by prisoners the lower the rate of re-incarceration and the less likely they are to increase the seriousness of their offending. These, and other personal and societal benefits such as a reduction in welfare dependence, were positively associated with the number of classes prisoners successfully completed—that is, the more classes the inmate successfully completes, the less likely they are to reoffend and to access unemployment benefits."4
The repetitive cycle of arrest, incarceration, release and re-incarceration is very costly for the taxpayer.
Research has shown that prison-based education programs are cost-effective and yield a high return on investment. One report, from the Center on Crime, Communities and Culture5, stated that the cost of offenders returning to jail for one year ($25,000) was ten times higher than the cost of educating that person for a year ($2,500).
Another study was more conservative, yet still convincing: The RAND 2013 meta-analysis found that the three-year return on investment for taxpayers is nearly 400%, or $5 saved for every $1 spent on education.6
Clearly, the potential saving by reducing recidivism could amount to millions of dollars.
The added benefit is that when a released individual gets a job, he or she is no longer a burden on the state, but will instead contribute to the general economy and pay taxes.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics7 reports that 95% of prison inmates will eventually be released, so getting them ready to participate in society is critical.
In order to lead successful lives outside of prison, individuals need to be equipped with appropriate knowledge and skills so that they can find employment and make a positive contribution to society.
Besides academic and vocational tutelage, released prisoners also need soft skills, such as interpersonal communication, defusing tension in the workplace, and social survival skills. They need to embrace new values and develop new attitudes, a sense of responsibility and a desire to be a self-supporting, contributing member of society. They may need pre-release instructing and post-release support in some or all of the following:
Although release from prison is instantaneous, making the transition from inmate to employee doesn’t happen overnight.
Training, either in prison or soon after release, is a key part of the metamorphosis. Finding a job within the first year also reduces recidivism significantly.8
Effective educational and rehabilitative programs must ensure that released individuals do not feel overwhelmed. They must be equipped with the skills and competence to cope in their communities and to use new technology. For example, some feel stressed doing things that other citizens do without thinking, like using a smartphone or swiping a bank card at a pay point.
The need for learning is obvious: prisoners need to feel confident and prepared to make a new life so that they don’t go back to the old.
Implementing correctional education is challenging. Prison education rehabilitation programs struggle with the following:
Corrections has historically struggled with high staff vacancy rates for its inhouse academic and vocational education programs. This has restricted the opportunities for prisoners to receive education and training.
Prisons have also been unable to address the causes of low enrollment, due to problems hiring staff and also the lack of adequate space within prison premises.
Physical space limitations restrict the number of students that can be accommodated in educational programs. The lack of space has led to reduced class sizes at some institutions.9
Another factor is that prisoners are ineligible for Pell Grants. A Pell Grant is a subsidy the U.S. federal government provides for students in need to pay for college education. Most people in prison are eligible for post-secondary education but they cannot access educational resources. Only 9 percent of incarcerated people received a certificate from a college or trade school while in prison.10
eLearning offers solutions to all the above problems and provides other benefits to boot.
Delivering academic and vocational content digitally means that students will also be developing computer competence and technical skills, which they might otherwise lack.
Research has shown simulation and scenario-based training, is effective not only for being taught academic or theoretical content, but also developing cognitive skills, soft-skills and procedural skills. Students learn by doing in a safe environment.
Simulation eLearning with built-in scenarios can also help to ensure that learners will be able to apply their new knowledge and skills in the real world.
eLearning can be used collaboratively among inmates as well as with mentors or co-learners outside of the correctional institutions to help them build the social connections they need to succeed in the free world. “There is suggestive evidence that correctional education may be most effective in preventing recidivism when the program connects inmates with the community outside the correctional facility.”11
5. eLearning can have inbuilt assessment to measure the performance of students long before they need to perform on the job in the real world.
6. Digital data can also be used to research the ROI of the investment and the results of the training post-release.
Education is a vital part of a rehabilitation program. It equips inmates to reintegrate successfully into society and, by reducing recidivism, it reduces the costs of incarceration of repeat offenders. To help overcome the challenges of implementing prison education programs, eLearning can be an integral part of the solution.
With SimTutor’s innovative simulator tools that maximize learning by doing, training can be easily and rapidly created that enables anyone, including prisoners, to learn both soft and hard skills that will equip them to succeed socially and economically.