What is Prison Education?

S. Gonzales

Prison education, or correction education, is vocational training or academic instruction provided to prisoners while they are incarcerated. These educational programs can be part of inmate rehabilitation and can help prepare prisoners for their lives upon release. Prison education can be offered from within the prison, or it can be provided by other sources, such as vocational schools, colleges or universities. Studies have shown that, in addition to helping the prisoners, correction education can benefit society as a whole.

Some studies have shown that prison education reduces recidivism rates.
Some studies have shown that prison education reduces recidivism rates.

The educational programs offered in correctional institutions vary by region and by facility. Educational programs are extremely popular in prisons. It's estimated that in most prisons, 50 percent of the population takes advantage of educational programs, and the other 50 percent has signed up on waiting lists to do so.

A prison education is a combination of vocational and academic instruction provided to inmates in prison.
A prison education is a combination of vocational and academic instruction provided to inmates in prison.

Funding for prison education has long been controversial. Private citizens often oppose prison education, because they assume that the government, and thus tax money, is solely responsible for finding prisoners' educations. Private charities and even inmates can fund prison education, however. Educational establishments also can help with funding, because they might offer tuition breaks for prisoners seeking higher education.

Governmental support of education for inmates and ex-inmates can be limited by law. In the United States, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 prohibited those convicted of felonies from receiving Pell grant assistance. The Federal Pell Grant Program offers less than 1 percent of its budget to the education of inmates. Other laws can, in fact, support the education of inmates. For example, the Higher Education Act’s Grants for Youthful Offenders program allows the U.S. government to spend $17 million US Dollars on inmate education, provided that inmates seeking to participate in educational programs are younger than 25 and have sentences that are less than five years in length.

Some people will always oppose correctional education, but statistics have shown that prison education reduces recidivism rates. Inmates who pursue education and complete programs while incarcerated are less likely to return to prison. The result is that less tax money is spent on housing, feeding and rehabilitating a potential repeat offender, because any amount of money spent on prison education saves twice as much money that would have had to have been applied to re-incarcerating an offender. It also means that former prisoners who have been given the educational tools and marketable skills necessary to become productive members of society are very likely to use them.

Those who support prison education are likely to point to studies that underscore the low recidivism rates of prisoners who have been educated while incarcerated. They also can claim that educating prisoners indirectly results in less crime and a safer society. Education also can result in an increase in respect, tolerance and personal responsibility, so proponents of inmate education also can claim that educating prisoners safeguards the integrity of the society.

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Discussion Comments


Family support is of course fundamental and has been a criteria that parole boards hold as an essential key to consideration for release. What if an inmate does not have family?


@eduguy1313 - Yes, this is nice to know, however some inmates are mentally at a point where formal prison education programs are not possible. I would like to see info about inmates and counseling/therapy.

Some inmates more than likely need a self esteem boost and anxiety reduction before beginning formal education in prison. Both should be highly encouraged!


Wow! Excellent information. I am glad to have learned that education for prisoners has such positive results. I think a college education can benefit and positively change almost anyones life for the better.

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