*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Jake Cronin, PhD Candidate, University of Missouri
America’s prison population has nearly tripled since 1987, and with the exception of health care, expenditures on corrections have grown more rapidly than spending in any other category. One of the major drivers of these trends is the number of released inmates who return to prison. Nearly all of those incarcerated will be released at some point, and of those, nearly two-thirds will re-offend and return to prison. One of the major barriers to successful reentry is the general lack of education and skills common in the prison population. Approximately 40% of state prison inmates have not completed high school compared to only 18% of the general population.
One way states are addressing the problem of high recidivism rates is the implementation of educational programs to prepare inmates for successful reentry into society. Over 90% of state prisons and all federal prisons have educational programs for inmates, and roughly half of all state inmates will participate in an educational program. This paper uses a unique dataset of over 25,000 inmates provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections to determine whether acquiring a General Equivalency Degree (GED) in prison reduces recidivism rates and increases employment rates. The State of Missouri mandates that all of those without a high school education (or its equivalent) make a good faith effort to obtain a GED while in prison, providing a unique natural experiment in which participation in the program is not voluntary. Appropriate econometric techniques will be used to control for factors which predict successful completion of the GED program, recidivism rates, and employment rates.
Early results of the Missouri program indicate that those who successfully obtain a GED in prison are less likely to recidivate and more likely to find a full-time job than individuals who do not obtain a GED. Given the increasing prison population and high cost of incarceration, these findings will be of interest to criminal justice researchers and practitioners seeking effective reentry interventions.