March 08, 2006 09:00 ET

Exploding Prison Population and Declining Education and Training Programs Creating "Perfect Storm" for Society

PRINCETON, NJ -- (MARKET WIRE) -- March 8, 2006 -- A new study released by ETS today says that prison education programs reduce recidivism, save money, and benefit society. Yet declining support for such programs results in the 600,000 ex-offenders returning to the community each year being as locked out of the labor market as they were locked up in prison.

That is the finding detailed in the report "Locked Up and Locked Out: An Educational Perspective on the U.S. Prison Population." The report, written by Richard J. Coley and Paul E. Barton of ETS's Policy Information Center, warns that ever-larger numbers of ex-prisoners are returning to their communities poorly prepared to re-enter the workforce. As a result, they are unable to support themselves or their families. Coley and Barton describe this as a "formula for disaster."

"Poorly trained and poorly educated ex-prisoners returning to society have three strikes against them," says study author Richard Coley. "Strike one, ex-inmates aren't trusted by many employers. Strike two, employers want employees with steady, successful job experiences, which most ex-prisoners don't have. Strike three, many jobs are off limits to ex-prisoners."

"Despite a growing need to prepare prisoners for life outside bars, as well as to protect citizens from harm and to reduce costs associated with incarceration, the investment in prison education has fallen, decade by decade," Coley says.

"An extreme example of decline in educational investment is in Oregon," says co-author Paul Barton. "In 1980, an inmate then could learn a vocation or pursue a variety of academic subjects. These days, the 2,000-inmate Oregon State Penitentiary has not one teacher on its staff."

Troubling Findings

--  In 2003, 6.9 million adults were on probation, in jail, or on parole,
    an overall increase of 274 percent since 1980.
--  Since 1985, incarcerations increased the most in federal prison, 373
    percent; followed by local jails, 178 percent; and state prisons, 175
--  In 2004, the incarceration rate for Black 25- to 29-year-old males was
    13 percent, compared with 2 percent of the White and 4 percent of the
    Hispanic male populations in that age group. Black males in this age group
    without a high school diploma are about as likely to be in prison as
--  Black juveniles were more than four times as likely as White juveniles
    to be in custody, and more than seven times as likely as Asian juveniles.
    Rates for American Indian and Hispanic juveniles were also higher than the
    rate for all groups combined.
--  Overall, Black and Hispanic state prison inmates had much lower levels
    of educational attainment than White inmates: 53 percent of Hispanic and 44
    percent of Black inmates had not graduated from high school or earned a
    GED, compared to 27 percent of White inmates.
--  In 2000, almost 3.6 million parents were either in prison or on
    parole, and about 1.5 million children had parents who were incarcerated in
    state or federal prisons.
"The tide has been turning for decades toward punitive measures, and the downward trend in prison education and training has been a steep one," writes Coley. "No matter where people stand on whether sentences should be longer or what they think about the three-strikes-and-you're-out approach, no one can deny the problem of ignoring the educational needs of prisoners and what it will mean -- to them and to society -- in the future."

"The trend toward punishment and toughness need not serve as an impediment to education and training efforts," says Barton. "Learning is tough work, particularly for those who have not been encouraged to treat it as a priority or who have developed an aversion to it. But a minimum of a high school education is required for support of self or family, and the criminal justice system has a responsibility to best serve society.

"What better ways to do this than to ensure the self-sufficiency of ex-prisoners and to help break the cycle of crime in prisoners' families?" Coley concludes.

Copies of the report can be downloaded free-of-charge from


ETS is a nonprofit institution with the mission to advance quality and equity in education by providing fair and valid assessments, research, and related services for all people worldwide. In serving individuals, educational institutions and government agencies around the world, ETS customizes solutions to meet the need for teacher professional development products and services, classroom and end-of-course assessments, and research-based teaching and learning tools. Founded in 1947, ETS today develops, administers and scores more than 24 million tests annually in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide. Additional information is available at

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