New Report Shows Prison Can Block Access to Education for Life

By Shani Saxon Oct 31, 2018

The Prison Policy Initiative released a report yesterday (October 30) called "Getting Back on Course" that explores “educational exclusion and attainment among formerly incarcerated people.” It breaks down the ways those who have been in the prison system are typically blocked from educational opportunities for the rest of their lives, which in turn adversely impacts their ability to attain employment.

The report, which relies on data from the National Former Prisoner Survey, reveals that it’s nearly impossible for formerly incarcerated people to make up for lost time once their education has been replaced with a prison sentence. More than half of formerly incarcerated people cite a GED or high school diploma as their highest level of education, and a quarter “have no credential at all.”

Formerly incarcerated people without a high school diploma or GED face unemployment rates 2 to 5 times higher than their peers. The numbers are even worse when talking about people of color. “Unemployment rates differ by race and gender, ranging from 25 percent for White men to 60 percent for Black women,” the report states.

The American government currently has no program in place that provides effective solutions for people who have been victims of the school to prison pipeline. As outlined in the report, most incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people can’t access degree-granting programs, Pell Grants and federal student loans. And as employers are increasingly requiring college credentials from their employees, it is difficult for them to find success in the job market.

Report author Lucius Couloute said in a statement, "We need a new and evidence-based policy framework that addresses K-12 schooling, prison education programs and reentry systems." The report goes on to make four recommendations “aimed at increasing access to educational opportunities, for both incarcerated people and youth at risk.” They are:


Fix K-12 school inequalities, such as those arising out of zero-tolerance disciplinary policies


Ensure that incarcerated people have access to robust educational services


States should immediately “ban-the-box” on all applications for admission


Restore Pell Grants to incarcerated people and remove other barriers to financial aid

Read the full report here.