The Post-Prison Education Program aims to dramatically reduce recidivism* by harnessing the power of education. The Program offers hope and opportunity to people leaving prison by providing the support needed to gain a meaningful education and become active members of their communities. Formerly imprisoned people are supported in finding employment, housing, mental health and other services to break free from cycles of hopelessness, poverty and incarceration and achieve a higher education. In turn, an education opens the door to sustaining a living wage, clean and sober housing, responsible living and strengthened families—the most important factors in breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty and crime, thereby increasing community safety and decreasing taxpayer dollars spent on repeated incarceration.
Why it matters
In Washington State alone, over 8,200 people are released from prison every year.
Individuals are released with $40 and one set of clothing. If they are mentally ill, they are given just two weeks of medication. They have often accrued significant debt (Legal Financial Obligations*), have the stigma of incarceration, are under-educated and barred from housing and employment opportunities, and thus remain in a cycle of poverty, homelessness and imprisonment.
Studies show that two years of post-secondary education reduces the rate of recidivism by more than 50%.
Through wraparound support, the Program makes an education possible by also providing resources for navigating a spectrum of needs: transportation, groceries, daycare, housing, counseling, legal help, family and public assistance, connections to mental health and/or chemical dependency treatment, and more.
All of this is accomplished at a fraction of the cost Washington State taxpayers spend to keep people locked away. The Program spends a monthly average of $859 per person until goals are met. The Department of Corrections spends more than $3,000 a month on incarceration alone on top of the legal costs of both prosecuting and providing (an overwhelmed) public defense. These costs then continuously repeat as unsupported people reenter the criminal justice system again and again. Giving people a real chance to succeed outside of prison is not only the human thing to do, it is fiscally responsible.
* Washington State defines recidivism as a return to prison with one or more new felony convictions within three years of previous release. Other states define it as a return within five years, and still others do not include a time limit. It is a complicated statistic but by all measures, once someone has served time in prison (particularly those with long sentences or factors such as mental illness, extreme poverty and the trauma of racism) they are very likely to return to prison after release. Washington regularly reports between 30% and 50% recidivism, while the U.S. Department of Justice has reported as high as 70%.
* Legal Financial Obligations are fees and fines that are assigned along with a criminal conviction. They are often thousands of dollars and accrue interest at 12% even while a person serves their sentence.