Commonwealth Second Chances Full
The bottom line is that it costs more to incarcerate someone than to educate them in one of our fine public or private postsecondary institutions.

Sixty percent of available jobs within the Commonwealth’s diverse and growing economy now require more than a high school diploma. Since 95 percent of Virginia’s incarcerated population will eventually return to their communities, our challenge is to ensure they return home with the skills and education necessary to find long term employment, which reduces the chances of committing future crimes and ultimately results in safer communities and a better economy for all. Several evaluations of incarcerated people who participate in prison education programs indicate that they are less likely to return to prison or jail than those who do not. 

State investment in expanding postsecondary opportunities within prisons is supported by a range of organizations including the Vera Institute of Justice and the Virginia Community College System. Five community colleges in Virginia (Rappahannock, Danville, Southside, Germanna and Piedmont) are already partnering with correctional facilities to provide postsecondary instruction toward an Associate of Arts degree as well as workforce certificates and credentials in skills in such as carpentry and welding. These programs have demonstrated some success, but have long waiting lists and still leave 34 of Virginia’s 41 prisons without high quality post-high school educational opportunities. 

In addition to making common sense, expanding educational opportunities in prisons also makes economic sense. The bottom line is that it costs more to incarcerate someone than to educate them in one of our fine public or private postsecondary institutions. The nationally estimated return on investment in postsecondary education in prison is five dollars to one, but perhaps more importantly, these programs can improve public safety by reducing crime, enabling prisoners to contribute to their local community and economy, and will ultimately save Virginia taxpayers money. 

As Virginia House of Delegates and Senate Leadership and budget committee members discuss how to prepare Virginia inmates to reenter their communities, I hope that they will consider these facts when looking at the issue of expanding postsecondary education within our correctional facilities. My support for in-prison education does not make me soft on crime. Rather, it makes me a supporter of being smart about time.