A program allowing Indiana prisoners to earn college degrees from behind bars produced its last class of graduates this past year.
Once one of the largest initiatives of its kind in the nation, the educational program filled a critical need. Research has long shown offenders with post-secondary education are much less likely to return to prison.
But providing inmates with a college education was expensive. Indiana spent as much as $10 million annually, with payments going directly to the colleges and universities running the programs. At its peak, about 2,400 prisoners were enrolled in the Correctional Education Program.
Now the Department of Corrections is shifting its focus to vocational training programs. It costs about $7,000 to provide training to 15 inmates in a specific field, like coal mining. Other programs include landscaping, welding, culinary arts and HVAC repair.
Director of Education John Nally says the state needs more programs that help prepare inmates for life after they’re released. The vast majority of Indiana prisoners aren’t serving life sentences, and Nally says he’s never met anyone who wants to come back.
There’s a financial incentive for the state to keep inmates from reoffending, too. It costs $52.60 a day to incarcerate an adult in Indiana.