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The Benefits of Corrections Education

Statutory Authority

Nationally, on any given day, there are approximately 5 million offenders who are either incarcerated or under probation or parole supervision. This should not be particularly surprising since the United States locks up more people per capita than any other nation in the world, a rather dubious honor that carries a high price. Costs of incarceration alone are in excess of $43 billion annually. It was to address our own spiraling Corrections costs that the1992 Utah Legislature enacted a recidivism reduction statute (the only such statute in the country). 53A-1-403.5 Utah Code Annotated 1953, holds the State Board of Education and the State Board of Regents jointly responsible for the education of offenders in the custody of the Department of Corrections. The stated goal of this collaborative effort is to develop and implement curriculum that will enhance offenders' success upon release. In addition to addressing the basic literacy needs of offenders, and providing course work leading to high school completion or a GED, a strong post-secondary career training component has been essential to this endeavor.

Academic Accomplishment

From 1998 through 2008, incarcerated offenders earned the following:

  • 5083 GEDs
  • 6788 High School Diplomas
  • 826 Vocational Certificates/Diplomas
  • 463 Associate's Degrees and 57 Bachelor's Degrees
  • 4 Master's Degrees (self-paid)

Because of their nearly indigent status (prison jobs routinely pay only $.40 an hour), offenders are charged a reduced tuition of approximately $100 per semester for post-secondary programs. Participating colleges subsidize the balance of tuition and the cost of associated equipment, textbooks, and supplies.

Utah's Recidivism Reduction Studies

Researching the effects of education on offenders began in earnest in 1992 with the passage of the statute noted above. The direction of key legislators at that time was that such research be conducted by independent contractors to ensure unbiased findings. Accordingly, two independent research firms have been used: Beryl Buck Institute for Education, Novato, California (1992-1995) and Datametics, Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah (1995-Present). Even in the infancy of the collaborative programming effort, it became obvious that education and career training (coupled with substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, and cognitive restructuring curricula) were going to pay huge dividends with regard to offender success and, hence, contribute to government savings by slowing the growth of Corrections. Notable findings of these independent studies are:

  • Offenders receiving educational services (without regard to any specific program of instruction) have shown as high as a 27% reduction in recidivism when compared to non-participating offenders.
  • Even slight reductions in recidivism make economic sense, because the costs of education are minimal when contrasted with the costs of crime and incarceration. With the direct costs of new crimes in Utah amounting to over $172 million per year, and victim costs exceeding $406 million, even a 10% reduction in recidivism culminates in a yearly savings of $27 million. Thus, every $1.00 spent on offender education results in more than $11.00 in taxpayer and victim cost savings.

Examining the effects of specific educational programs on offenders has shown even better outcomes. Utah receives a small Federal grant under the auspices of the Workplace and Community Transition Training for Incarcerated Youth Offenders Program (YOP). This program is for incarcerated offenders who are under the age of 26, high school graduates, and within 5 years of a release date. The focus of this grant is on post-secondary education and pays offenders' tuition. Approximately 250 offenders participate yearly. This program continues to show exemplary results both in terms of percentage of offenders employed upon release and a substantially lower recidivism rate when compared to offenders who did not participate in post-secondary education:



% Employed

YOP Recidivism %

General Recidivism %

































Eight-Year Average





Note that the recidivism percentage for YOP participants is not a percentage of reduction but an actual recidivism rate. In other words, offenders in this program have returned to prison at less that half the rate of non-participants. These results are extraordinary but easily explained: Career training translates into better jobs; better jobs carry higher wages; higher wages mean more individual and family stability; stability reduces recidivism.

Corrections Education Data: A National Perspective

  • Former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger-"We must accept the reality that to confine offenders behind walls without trying to change them is an expensive folly with short-term benefits-winning battles while losing the war."
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons-Recidivism rates were inversely related to educational program participation while in prison. The more educational programs successfully completed for each 6 months confined, the lower the recidivism rate.
  • Alabama Department of Corrections-The general prison population recidivism rate in any given 12-month period averages 35% as compared to 1% for inmates who completed post-secondary degrees in prison.
  • Texas Department of Corrections-Offenders earning an Associate's degree have had a 13.7% recidivism rate; Bachelor's degrees a 5.6% recidivism rate; and Master's degrees a 0% recidivism rate. The recidivism rate for those offenders without degrees was 60%. Estimates are that over a four-year period, Texas could save as much as $59 million for every 1,000 offenders who complete a college program of study.
  • Illinois Department of Corrections-11,000 offenders are enrolled in college programs. Graduates have had an overall recidivism rate of 13.1%, creating $97 million in annual cost savings.
  • Ohio Department of Corrections-The recidivism rate for women who worked toward a degree at the time of their release was only 16.9%. The rate for those who earned a college degree was even lower, 8.3%.
  • Oklahoma Department of Corrections-Offenders who participated in college courses had an 8% recidivism rate while those who actually earned a degree had a 3% rate.
  • Virginia Department of Corrections-Participation in a college program cut recidivism rates from 49% to 20%.
  • Massachusetts Department of Corrections-Several hundred offenders had completed at least a Bachelor's degree while in prison over a 25-year period, and not one of them had been returned to prison for a new crime.
  • Maryland Department of Corrections-46% of offenders released from the general prison population of 19,014 were returned to prison within three years of their release as compared to none of the 120 offenders who had received degrees while in prison.


Nationally, over 80% of crimes are committed by offenders who have been released from incarceration. This is an enormous problem, and one that is responsible for skyrocketing growth in Corrections. It is not newcomers to Corrections who cause crowding, it is recidivists; hence, as research data clearly show, to focus on breaking the cycle of crime through proven educational programs for incarcerated offenders is logical and cost-effective in both the short- and long-term.

Crime and criminals generate huge emotional responses; this is only natural. But policymakers need to put those biases aside and realize that 95% of incarcerated offenders will eventually be released and assume some role within the greater community. It is to no one's advantage to have these men and women fail.

Corrections is not going away anytime soon, and neither are the thousands of offenders under its supervision. It is said that there are those who succeed despite the help they receive from others; and there are those who succeed only because of the help they receive. Offenders, the most at-risk segment of the general population, generally fall into this latter category.

2006-2007 Academic Year-end Report Corrections Education
Note: For information regarding this report, please contact Jeffrey Galli, Corrections Education Specialist, Utah State Office of Education, PO Box 144200, 250 East 500 South, Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-4200, Phone: (801) 538-7989.