Our meta-analytic findings provide further support that receiving correctional education while incarcerated reduces an individual’s risk of recidivating after release from prison. Our findings were stable even when we limited our analyses to those studies with more rigorous research designs. We found a notable effect across all levels of education, from adult basic edu- cation and GED programs to postsecondary and vocational education programs. Further, our cost analysis suggests that correctional education programs can be cost-effective.
Comparison of the Costs of Correctional Education Programs and Reincarceration Costs
State policymakers, corrections officials, and correctional education administrators are asking a key question: How cost-effective is correctional education? Our cost analysis suggests that correctional education programs are cost-effective. Focusing only on the direct costs of correc- tional education programs and of incarceration itself, and using a three-year reincarceration rate for a hypothetical pool of 100 inmates, we estimated that the three-year reincarceration costs for those who did not receive correctional education would be between $2.94 million and $3.25 million. In comparison, for those who did receive correctional education, the three-year reincarceration costs would be between $2.07 million and $2.28 million. This means that rein- carceration costs are $0.87 million to $0.97 million less for those who receive correctional edu- cation. In comparison, our estimates indicate that the costs of providing education to inmates would range from $140,000 to $174,400 for the pool of 100 inmates. This translates into a per-inmate cost of correctional education ranging from $1,400 to $1,744, suggesting that pro- viding correctional education is cost-effective compared with the cost of reincarceration. It is worth noting that this estimate takes into account only the direct costs to the system, but it does not consider such other costs as the financial and emotional costs to victims of crime or to the criminal justice system as a whole. Hence, it is a conservative estimate of the broader effect that correctional education can potentially yield.
To further help interpret the cost savings, we also calculated the break-even point— defined as the risk difference in the reincarceration rate required for the cost of correctional education to be equal to the cost of incarceration. For a correctional education program to be cost-effective, we estimated that a program would need to reduce the three-year reincarcera- tion rate by between 1.9 and 2.6 percentage points to break even. In fact, as noted, our meta- analytic findings show that participation in correctional education programs is associated with a 13 percentage-point reduction in the risk of reincarceration three years after release from prison.