This land of the free incarcerates 2.1 million people, one out of every 138 Americans, and the numbers continue to grow, in part because of tougher sentencing guidelines. The cost to the rest of us is $57 billion a year, according to a U.S. Department of Justice estimate, and increasingly it appears that encouraging inmates to improve their job skills by attending classes while behind bars offers a way out of this tremendous waste of human resources.
A Blade story cites the case of Eric Stephens, who is taking classes through Owens Community College, made the dean's list, and hopes not only to get a job when he is released but also to give proper guidance to his 2-year-old son. He is one of 85,000 inmates nationally - fewer than 5 percent - who are working on a college degree. Ninety-six percent of those working on degrees are enrolled in programs in just 15 states.
Many people believe the best way with criminals is to lock them up and throw the key away. Some states, Indiana among them, grant prisoners time off for completing a two-year or four-year degree. Michigan currently provides no money for post-high school education. Ohio is somewhere in between, though a state rehabilitation official says officials believe taxpayers do not want to support post-high school education.
Studies, including one which included Ohio, indicate that education in prison cut down the rate of re-arrest, re-conviction, and re-incarceration. And it is well known that substandard skills and outright illiteracy are closely correlated with incarceration of prisoners.
Since the cost to house each inmate can easily run in excess of $20,000 a year, perhaps the best argument that can be made for giving inmates wider educational opportunities is that some won't return.
In Ohio, federal and state money provides about $2,000 annually for each of some 2,500 inmates. College-level education, in fact, is the best tool Ohio could provide for its citizens.
Bill Tregea, an associate professor at Adrian College and a volunteer teacher of inmates, says "We have to lower [prison] budgets. We have to reduce recidivism. That's the opening, in my view, for prison postsecondary education."
Makes more sense than throwing away the key.