Educations Role in the Department of Corrections – Part 1

I recently spoke for the State of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to educators from various state correctional institutions in the Northeast.

The discussion centered around the impact educators can have in improving the recidivism rates of inmates leaving these institutions after incarceration.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections 2013 Recidivism Report indicates recidivism rates have remained virtually unchanged over at least the past decade in Pennsylvania. Approximately 6 in 10 released inmates are rearrested or re-incarcerated within three years of release from prison. Younger released inmates are more likely to recidivate than older inmates. A released inmate who is under 21 at the time of release from prison is more than twice as likely to recidivate within three years than a released inmate who is over age 50. The current Pennsylvania budget at 2 Billion dollars is HUGE. In Pennsylvania it costs approximately $35,697 apiece to house the state’s 51,321 prisoners a year.  That’s more than it costs a family to raise a child annually.

National statistics are no better. In fact other states’ recidivism rates were last updated in a 2002 report generated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In that report an estimated 67.5% of prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested within 3 years, an increase over the 62.5% found for those released in 1983. This means in the last 30 years that 2/3 of the inmates released returned to prison, and that there has not been any improvement despite the billions of dollars spent in education and rehabilitation of inmates. Imagine going to a business and 2/3 of the time it failed to meet its’ objective? They would be out of business, but not a government institution. Whether it is the Department of Corrections or the Department of Education the reply always seems to be the same. Not enough funding. We cannot continue to justify spending the taxpayer’s hard earned income on more and more on programs when they continue to fail. What do they say the definition of insanity is; continuing to do the same thing expecting different results?

In speaking with officials in the education sector of the Dept of Corrections they indicated there are plenty of programs that provide adequate education for inmates to receive training and certifications that allow them to obtain employment. Numerous employers large and small have been willing to give former inmates employment. But too many times the employers have been disappointed after hiring an inmate over another qualified unemployed individual and  investing money into hiring and training only to have them quit or be fired for a character issue; not being on time, not showing up, disrespecting the job or rules of employment, etc., not for being unable to perform the functions of the job. This begs to ask the question; are we perhaps not focusing on a key area, life skills issues that we all need to survive on the job. In fact life skills issues are skills we need to survive and thrive in all areas of our personal lives.

One example of success in accomplishing lower recidivism rates is Oklahoma who has one of the lowest rates in the nation at 28 percent. The low rate is a result in part of a pilot program the DOC had for inmates from Oklahoma County. The program places great emphasis on an inmate’s re-entry into society, by providing the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully rejoin the community.

John Wentzel Secretary of the Pennsylvania DOC said without any corresponding attempt to reduce the number of people sent to prison through investment in evidence-based policies, addiction treatment and community re-entry programs, the budget will continue to go up.

I believe education is one of those community re-entry programs. But what education should we provide? What is the mindset and what are the skill sets needed for an individual to succeed?

Let’s address first the question what does an individual’s mindset have to do with it? I believe everything! Sports coaches and athletes understand the role a proper mindset has to do with success in the sports arena. Research has demonstrated the correlation between the mindset of a patient and the outcome of a surgery or illness. Employers hire more and more on attitude knowing they can train a motivated employee.

In leadership we understand that the Actions we take are based on the Information we have in our lives and those Actions determine Results.

Information — Action — Results