Fifty years ago many criminologists were questioning if prisons were a thing of the past because rates of incarceration where at a historic low and had been declining for many years. The average incarceration rate during the first part of the 20th century was one-tenth of one percent of the population. But as we know prisons did not disappear during the second half of the century, but rather began to drastically grow. In fact, the overall national incarceration rate has multiplied five times (eight times for women), since the early 1970’s from 1 in 100 persons to 1 in 31. What is worse is that Georgia’s rate is 1 in 13, over twice the national average.
With over 53,000 inmates, the Georgia Department of Corrections (DCOR) is the fourth largest correctional system in the nation. Although rates of incarceration have exploded over the last 40 years, studies repeatedly indicate that higher education in prison programs reduces recidivism and results in reductions in crime, savings to taxpayers, and long-term contributions to the safety and well-being of the communities to which formerly incarcerated people return.
Like many other states, Georgia’s recidivism rates and incarceration costs are high – 36% and $1 billion per year respectively. Documented by researchers and reported by Georgia’s DCOR, education is one of the best ways to reduce the cycle of recidivism and lower incarceration rates. Studies have demonstrated that a high correlation exists between the level of education attained by an incarcerated person and his or her recidivism rate. Given that about 95 out of every 100 incarcerated people eventually return to their community, it is crucial that we implement programs and tools that effectively reduce recidivism.