EDUCATION OFFERS the only realistic hope for relief for America's overcrowded prison system - and the taxpayers who pay for it - says Douglas D. Koski, a graduate student in criminology at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.
Koski studied the nation's crime statistics and reviewed research. His findings are not new but, taken together, are alarming. He concludes that:
Half to two-thirds of released prisoners commit fresh crimes that send them back to prison.
A flood of drug convicts into already overcrowded prisons is forcing early release of more dangerous inmates.
About 98 percent of all inmates eventually will be released.
A push for laws requiring longer sentences - "three strikes and you're out," for example - will exacerbate crowding.
"It's going to do the public a giant disservice," Koski said. "We don't have the money to build new prisons to house these people."
Koski, 37, lives in Hazelwood. He got a law degree 11 years ago from Washington University Law School and is completing a master's degree in criminology at UMSL. He plans to earn a doctorate, and then do consulting work and teach.
For the winter semester this year, he compiled a research paper that tried to answer two questions:
Does money spent on public education `pay off' in terms of reduced crime?
Will a comparable investment in the education of the prison population result in reduced rates of recidivism (return to prison)?
The answer to both questions, Koski concluded, is "yes," although some kinds of education pay higher dividends than others.
Assorted experts, backed by FBI crime statistics, have found that people involved in crime are likely to be less educated than the general population, Koski said. "We found that especially true with respect to high school completion rates."
Educating inmates in prison also appears to reduce the likelihood that they'll return to prison, Koski concluded, adding that measuring the recidivism rate is difficult.
How, for example, do you sort out the role that motivation plays? In other words, are the inmates who are motivated enough to seek schooling behind bars the same ones who are motivated enough to avoid returning to prison anyway?
In some states, that question may be moot, because the trend is to eliminate prison education programs, Koski noted. Missouri, for example, has eliminated all prison college courses except for correspondence courses paid for by the prisoners.
U.S. policy on what to do with inmates remains clouded by the unresolved philosophical dispute between the Quaker belief that prisoners can be reformed and the Puritan idea that no amount of rehabilitation will change a criminal, Koski wrote. …