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Tab 2: The Problem


For as long as prisons exist, those incarcerated should have access to higher education within them.



  • In country after country, studies show that the overwhelming majority of people in prison are those who have been denied access to educational opportunities in the first place. People who are given access to education are far less likely to end up in prison. Ensuring that educational opportunities are available to people who have been denied access to education is therefore one powerful way to correct for the neglect that societies inflict on their poorest and most vulnerable members. 

  • Investing in higher education in prison communicates to incarcerated people, their families, and to society as a whole that incarcerated people have the curiosity and capacity for higher learning and deserve more than vocational training. The visibility and voices of formerly incarcerated men and women who have benefitted from a rigorous higher education while in prison, in turn, challenge public perceptions of incarcerated people, paving the way for societies to critically re-evaluate their approach to justice.  

We already know higher education behind bars is an effective investment in public safety, public health, workforce development, and the betterment of our poorest communities.

  • Highly effective prison-based higher education initiatives have existed for over twenty years. In the United States, the country’s best universities have led the way in delivering high-quality higher education in prisons.

  • In the states of New York and Connecticut, incarcerated men and women are able to take credit-bearing courses from Bard College, Wesleyan University, and Yale, with 85% of graduates securing jobs within two months of release, and just 2% ever re-offending compared to a national average of 50%.

  • Reoffending rates for prisoners who have graduated from similar programs in other parts of the United States are equally impressive. In California, Mount Tamalpais College reports reoffending rates of just of 17% three years after release from custody compared to a state average rate of 65%.

The United Kingdom lags behind other countries when it comes to education behind bars, and this harms our poorest communities 


  • In the England and Wales, just 23% of formerly incarcerated people are employed six months after release from prison, dropping to 17% one year after release. Unemployment is one of the main reasons that 39.3% of formerly incarcerated people re-offend within twelve months of being released, jumping to 75% within nine years. 

  • The UK Ministry of Justice estimates that the economic and social costs of re-offending alone is £18 billion per year.

  • In the United Kingdom, less that 2% of the 87,550 people who are incarcerated have access to higher education. Of this minority, most are studying alone via long-distance or remote learning where they are unable to benefit from the social experience of belonging to a cohort and community of academic peers.


  • In the United Kingdom, the vast majority of education behind bars deals only with basic literacy, numeracy, or vocational skills. Studies show that the lack of higher level courses is the single top reason why incarcerated people do not engage in learning in prison.


It doesn’t need to be this way

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