“Society is not forgiving us.”
In a phrase, it’s the same grim story Charles Hawkins hears all the time from the former prisoners. He directed Indiana State University’s Correctional Education Program, which offered college degrees to offenders in state prisons until budget cuts cancelled the program and cost him his job this year.
“‘I’ve done my time, I’m ready to change my life,” ex-prisoners tell Hawkins. “‘I’m ready to turn my life around. And at every door that opens, I’m getting kicked in the teeth.’”
The numbers tell an equally-depressing story. Though higher levels of education are supposed to open doors to employment, even offenders who leave prison with college degrees or high school diplomas face highly uncertain job prospects after returning to the outside world.
In our story about prison education earlier this week, we referenced a report from the Indiana Department of Corrections and Ball State University.
The study followed more than 6,500 offenders released from Indiana prisons in 2005 for five years, tracking who was employed, who was unemployed and who reoffended. The report also broke the group down demographically between violent, non-violent, sex and drug offenders.
Here are four takeaways from that study:
- More than one-third of all released offenders didn’t have a high school diploma — 35.4 percent to be exact. More than half of the offenders without a high school education returned to prison within five years. Of the drug offenders without a high school education, nearly 80 percent are African American.
- Fewer than 5 percent of released offenders had a college education. The vast majority — more than 88 percent — had a high school education or less.
- Even prisoners with a college education didn’t get jobs on the outside. The survey showed one-third of the offenders in the survey with at least two years of college education were unemployed. By contrast, the latest national unemployment numbers show the current unemployment rate for adults with “some college or an associates degree” is 7.5 percent.
- Educated or not, many prisoners reoffend. The study does show a strong correlation between higher education levels and low recidivism rates. Still, 30 percent of released prisoners with some college education eventually end up back behind bars. Among high school-educated offenders, the recidivism rate is 44 percent.
Listen to our story about prison education here.