Masters Thesis Spotlight: Reducing Recidivism Rates in Florida; Expansion of Education Opportunities

On average, the incarceration rate in America is 698 people per 100,000 residents. Florida, however, persists far beyond the average and leads the nation in average incarceration rate, which is currently 833 people per 100,000 residents. However, the high rate of incarceration does not improve recidivism. Recidivism rates are a national concern, referring to the percentage of convicted criminals who are reincarcerated. Responding to recidivism in Florida should be a top policy concern focused on strengthening educational practices in prisons to improve the quality of life for individuals after jail. Factors such as education and fostering trade skills help prevent recidivism. However, these factors cannot be sought out by previously incarcerated individuals because there tends to be a financial barrier stopping them from acquiring the resources to get a higher education. Previously incarcerated individuals in Florida do not qualify for government-provided scholarships like bright futures but did qualify for Pell grants from 1965 to 1994. Pell grants are categorical grants provided by the federal government given to support students seeking post-secondary education. The lack of interest in post-secondary education in Florida prisons is because incarcerated individuals only need to receive an education if they have lower than a 9th-grade reading level. In this thesis, the author explores the benefits of post-secondary education for incarcerated through policy recommendations.

In this study, policies are proposed based on information from the Florida Department of Corrections and factoring in existing and prior education policies. The author outlines three criteria for policy geared toward improving recidivism rates:  effective, cost-effective, and politically feasible. With these standards, the thesis recommends three policies. Policy 1 suggests expanding the eligibility of education scholarships to nonviolent and noncareer offenders. The requirements for most Florida scholarships fall under criteria only accelerated students with the proper financial means can acquire, thus making it difficult for an individual who has been previously incarcerated to achieve these standards. The author admits that the policy is partially flawed due to uncertain feasibility and a mid-level cost and effectiveness. For Policy 2, the author proposes expanding lower-level education in prisons. The policy recommendation includes expansions in literacy, GED preparation, basic adult education, and vocational training. A significant hurdle for incarcerated individuals is the benefit of a post-secondary education, which is difficult when many cannot read above a 6th-grade level. Expanding GED education is mildly feasible, cost-efficient, and highly effective; however, the best option is vocational education. Vocational education fits into all three criteria and demonstrates the most promise.

Lastly, Policy 3 purports the expansion of post-secondary education in prisons. Three components support this policy: Prisoners can become productive workers and engaged citizens, in-prison education makes prisons safer for corrections staff and incarcerated individuals, and reduced recidivism translates to increased public safety and reduced corrections costs. These costs are not a minor benefit, either; the savings can support effective strategies to reduce violent crime. The price for this policy is low and highly effective but has insufficient political feasibility.

In conclusion, the funding for post-secondary education and education in prisons, in general, should be increased from 2% of the correctional budget. Vocational training appears to be the best objective course of action, combined with increasing GED education. Additionally, new pell grant eligibility laws will help automatically expand post secondary education opportunities.

Alexandra Nicole Webb was a Masters student at the Reubin O’D. Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University. This post is a summary of Alexandra’s thesis, written by COSSPP Blog Intern Camila Levy. Webb’s thesis was approved by her committee and will soon be available for public consumption. You can learn more about her and her work here.

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