Can Education Technology Reduce Criminal Recidivism?

It isn't just K-12 public schools that are looking to take advantage of the cost and learning benefits of education technology. The prison education system is also adopting technology-driven programs that are becoming popular among prisoners. New research assessing the effectiveness of prison education programs found that technology-driven courses have led to drastic cuts in repeat offenses.

The study, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education: A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults, says that technology-driven courses are at least as effective as teacher-led programs. The researchers noticed that recidivism was slightly lower for prisoners who took computer-driven courses than those who took teacher-led courses, writes David Nagel of The Journal.

Overall, both teacher-led and technology-driven programs have led to drastic cuts in recidivism and significantly higher employment rates for prisoners upon release.

Benefits were seen across all types of education programs. "We found a notable effect across all levels of education, from adult basic education and GED programs to postsecondary and vocational education programs," according to researchers.

The meta-analysis, conducted by the nonprofit RAND Corp., found that inmates who participated in correctional education programs had 43% lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who did not. The project was sponsored by the United States Department of Education and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance. It is the largest study to date measuring the effectiveness of prison education programs.

"Because computer-assisted instruction can be self-paced and can be supervised by a tutor or an instructor, it is potentially less costly to administer than traditional instruction. It is worth noting that since the publication of [studies measuring the effectiveness of computer-led instruction], the capability and utility of instructional technology has progressed,… which suggests that the effects of the newer technologies may potentially outstrip those found in the studies examined here. The current positive (though not statistically significant) result, the potential cost-effectiveness of computer-assisted technology, and the fact that the technology is getting better suggest that its use in this context could be promising," according to the research.

Technology-driven programs would be cost effective and are significant because budget shortfalls have led to cuts in some prison systems' education programs in recent years and are expected to do so for the foreseeable future. For example, the study cited the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, which has lost one-third of its full-time education staff and a similar percentage of its Skills Center instructors since 2008.

The study found that $140,000 to $174,400 will be required to educate a pool of 100 inmates. According to the research, given the cost of reincarceration for 100 inmates, the economic break-even point for prison education would be a reduction in recidivism of 1.9 percentage points to 2.6 percentage points.

Education programs went well beyond this break-even point, resulting in three-year reincarceration costs at about $870,000 to $970,000 less for a hypothetical pool of 100 prisoners participating in education programs than a pool of 100 prisoners not participating in education programs.

It is estimated that about 700,000 individuals each year leave federal and state prisons — and about half of them will be reincarcerated within three years, according to Justice and Education departments. "Extrapolating from there, the three-year reincarceration cost for those repeat offenders will be $10.29 billion to $11.37 billion without education programs."

"Correctional education programs provide incarcerated individuals with the skills and knowledge essential to their futures," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. "Investing in these education programs helps released prisoners get back on their feet — and stay on their feet — when they return to communities across the country."

09 18, 2013
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