Why have GED programming in prisons?

Why have GED Programming in prisons?

Providing educational programs like GED programming for the correctional population can get pretty controversial. Many people have a problem with individuals who have been convicted of a crime receiving a free education on their dime so to speak, but if you look at the long term effects of providing education it may be well worth the cost. So let’s dive in!

Reason #1: Over 50% of those incarcerated do NOT have high school diploma.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistic’s special report in 2003 on education in the correctional population: “About 75% of State prison inmates, almost 59% of Federal inmates, and 69% of jail inmates did not complete high school” (Harlow, 2003). Keep in mind that the incarcerated population in the United States is over 2 million.  Arming this disadvantaged population with education seems to be a more useful method of obtaining the desired goal of not only a low prison population, but also a low recidivism rate.

Reason #2: Education programming decreases recidivism

Educational programming has been shown to decrease recidivism, a fact well-recognized by government officials and researchers alike. The federal government mandates educational programming in each of their correctional facilities and more than 90% of state prisons provide these programs in their own facilities.The Rand Corporation found that those that participated in a GED program had a 30% lower chance of recidivism (Davis et al., 2014, p. xvi). 

Reason #3: Decreased recidivism = Decreased Costs

It costs quite a bit to incarcerate someone. Prisons cost taxpayers $40 billion annually (Vera Institute of Justice, 2012). This cost estimation does not include jails or other correctional facilities, which make up more than ⅓ of the correctional population (Prison Policy Initiative, 2016). The goal of prisons is to create productive citizens that will contribute to society after their release. It would be more beneficial to incorporate this population back into society with additional resources at their disposal. Educated citizens are also more likely to vote and have an increased standard of living (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004).



  1. Really interesting. How do you feel about access to higher ed in prisons? Additionally what are arguments for the education of longterm prisoners who may have life sentences? Though I personally think they should have access to the same programs some may argue it is a waste of resources.

  2. This is a great post! I have always thought that increasing education in prisons would be valuable to society as a whole. Because we have such high incarceration rates in America, educating prisoners just seems like an obvious answer to decreasing recidivism.

  3. ssshirali says:

    This is an incredibly interesting topic! I think you bring up some really valid points. I agree that educating those incarcerated would benefit the whole of society. However, do you think it would be a challenge to make the incarcerated interested in education?

  4. smalapati02 says:

    This is such an informational and concise post. I definitely agree that providing education that will help them lead a better life after they come out of prison would help at least some of them. The more we know about the world around us, the easier it could be to navigate it. I will continue reading your other blog posts.

  5. Great question and it’s a completely valid one! It’s also pretty funny that you ask since I was thinking the same thing when I first started. In reality, correctional education students are more likely than the general population to complete the course. An article I read about the Florida Department of Corrections noted that 90% of inmates who took the GED exam passed, while only 67% of the general population passed. This is probably due to the fact that inmates don’t have anywhere to go. “Forgetting” about class would be pretty hard and there isn’t really much else to do when you’re incarcerated. Some articles suggests that programming combats boredom. When inmates are bored, problematic behavior can result.

  6. That’s a hard question. There are a existing programs for higher ed. With 68% of prisoners (as of 2003) not having a high school diploma and quite a few reading below a 9th level, I’m not sure how realistic such programs are, but it depends on the facility and the type of program. Programs only exist if there is need, so if there aren’t enough students the program will most likely disband. Costs also play a roll; Higher ed can be expensive. Here is a cool link about VA’s higher ed accomplishments in corrections: https://vadoc.virginia.gov/news/press-releases/16jul20_STARAward.shtm