BlogInmate EducationThe History of Inmate Education

The History of Inmate Education

Inmate education programs have been around for hundreds of years and have changed over time to reflect new findings on the most effective approaches. In the U.S. and elsewhere, prison education has played an important role in the reduction of recidivism rates and in providing other benefits to incarcerated individuals and society as a whole.

Some of the first prison education programs came in the 18th and 19th centuries, when certain religious organizations began providing incarcerated individuals with basic moral instruction and literacy education. Based in principles of religious and moral reform, these early efforts used discourse and traditional literacy training with the belief that the education of inmates was important for social reintegration and spiritual transformation.

In the early 20th century, the first true college programs within a prison took place. In 1913, 50 inmates at a federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas were enrolled at the state’s Agricultural College. Just three years later, 250 incarcerated people at San Quentin Federal Prison in California were enrolled in courses at the University of California.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in Europe, countries like England and Germany also implemented educational initiatives within prisons. While the specifics of the approach varied based on location, the overall goals were the same: to provide education as a means of reformation and to improve the chances of societal reintegration.

Later in the 20th century, a significant expansion of inmate education programs took place in the United States and in other Western countries. Entire educational institutions were established within prisons, offering a wide range of classes and vocational trainings. The goal of such programs was not only to impart knowledge and skills training, but also to help instill a sense of purpose and hope amongst incarcerated people.

Modern prison education encompasses a diverse array of approaches, programs, and institutions. Inmate education initiatives now include distance learning programs, partnerships with community colleges and universities to provide accredited degrees, and digital literacy courses. Certain programs are specially tailored to suit the needs of specific populations of incarcerated people, such as juvenile offenders or people struggling with substance abuse.

Benefits of Inmate Education

The benefits of inmate education are many, and further research only continues to refine the approaches that have the most impact. Below are some of the primary benefits of receiving an education while incarcerated:

Lowers Rates of Recidivism

A 2018 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice found that nearly 70% of inmates who were released from state prisons in 2005 were arrested again within three years. This extremely high rate of recidivism can be significantly reduced by prison education programs. A study published in the same year found that people in prison who are in postsecondary education programs are nearly 50% less likely to be incarcerated again after release.

More Employment Opportunities After Release

Finding employment is one of the primary challenges faced by formerly incarcerated individuals. Research has shown that people who participate in education programs while incarcerated have a significantly better chance of being employed after release.

Changes Prison Culture

Experts have stated that prison education programs can reduce violence, making the facilities safer for staff and incarcerated individuals. The most effective programs in doing so appear to be college-in-prison programs, but any prison where inmates are participating in educational programs could potentially reap such benefits.

Positive Social Integration

Reintegration into society can be a major challenge faced by formerly incarcerated individuals. Those who engage in educational programs or vocational training while in prison can have an easier time reintegrating into society. Jobs are easier to find, and the tools learned in such programs can help people to navigate the logistical, moral, and social challenges of daily life outside prison walls.

Cost Savings

Federal and state prisons are a major draw on taxpayer dollars, and any reduction in incarceration rates has a positive cost-saving effect on society at large. With the major reduction in recidivism rates among people who receive education in prison, we have fewer people behind bars moving forward.

Inmate Education at Blackstone Career Institute

Blackstone Career Institute is an accredited, highly esteemed school that provides a vast array of post-secondary education programs. We offer a correspondence Paralegal certificate program to the incarcerated population. This program provides students with foundational knowledge and skills needed in the legal field.

We also offer correspondence Advanced Paralegal Certificate Courses for incarcerated individuals. Programs include Criminal Law, Civil Litigation, Interviewing & Investigating, Real Estate Law, Business & Corporate Law, Family Law, Personal Injury & Torts, Immigration Law, Wills, Trusts, & Estates, and Practical Bankruptcy.

Individuals may wish to take these courses to gain a deeper understanding of their own unique case, or to demonstrate to the parole board that they are on the right track. Individuals can also gain marketable job skills and reap the potential benefits listed above. If you are interested in learning more about our course offerings for the incarcerated, you can give us a call at 800-826-9228 during our office hours!


Written by Adam Wernham

bio of blogger for Blackstone Career Institute