For the past 30 years I have worked in Corrections Education programs through Pierce College (27 years) and Grays Harbor College (3 years). Grays Harbor College contracts with the Department of Corrections to provide inmate education at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen.
Approximately 97 percent of all offenders are released to their communities after serving their sentences. Most of the men and women entering correctional facilities lack the literacy and employment skills needed to succeed in our communities upon release. The Department of Corrections currently reports: 57 percent of all male offenders score below the 9th grade level in basic literacy skills, 71 percent of all female offenders score below the 9th grade level in basic literacy skills, 60 percent of all offenders were unemployed before they were incarcerated, and 75 percent of all offenders lack job skills and vocational training. A criminal record hinders both their future employability and their earning capabilities
Currently, 530 offender students take college coursework in 10 different programs at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. The programs offered are: Basic Skills and GED preparation; vocational programs in Bookkeeping, Building Maintenance, Computer Basics, Drywall, Roofing and Siding, Technical Design, Welding; Job Search Preparation and Stress and Anger Management.
Washington State’s investment in corrections education translates into savings for taxpayers. The majority of educated and trained offenders successfully finds jobs and don’t return to prison. The recidivism rate for former offenders in Washington State is 34 percent. The rate of recidivism for those who complete one year of postsecondary academic or vocational education drops to 15.6 percent. The rate is 10 percent for those who complete two years of academic or vocational postsecondary education.
The Washington Institute for State and Public Policy (WISPP) has completed two recent studies showing for each dollar spent on corrections education, taxpayers save between $13 and $19 on reduced recidivism rates from this better educated population. This was one of the highest rates of return for programs studied by the WISPP.
Investment in corrections education work-force training programs has helped offenders build confidence that enables them to compete for living-wage jobs upon release. A successful ex-offender contributes to the community by saving local, state and federal resources, strengthening family and community ties, contributing to the labor force and economy and breaking the cycle of generational poverty.
Of the 97 percent of offenders incarcerated in Washington state prisons who will be released and return to their home communities, these important questions should be considered: Will they be prepared for the challenges they will face? Will they be one of the educated former offenders who return with living-wage job skills in high demand fields and become taxpayers who can take care of themselves and their families?
Or will they join the nearly 34 percent of offenders who re-offend and continue to cost all of us nearly $30,000 per offender per year to incarcerate?
Support Corrections Education, it is a smart investment.
Christine McRae, MEd is the Dean of Education Programs at Stafford Creek Corrections Center for Grays Harbor College.