By Michael Ormsby
Judge Mathis, star of the syndicated court show named after him, grew up in the housing projects in Detroit. He was involved in gangs. He spent time in jail. How did he pull himself out? After learning that his mother had cancer, Mathis decided it was time to change the course of his life. He was offered probation, if he entered a GED® test prep program. He didn’t stop at a GED diploma. He went on to college and law school, and he became the youngest superior court judge ever to serve in Michigan.
Judge Mathis’s story is an exceptional one in the adult correctional education system. Over one third of prison inmates—37 percent in 2003—do not have a high school diploma or a GED test credential. With a prison record and no diploma, few potential jobs are available for these prisoners on release. In 2002, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 67% of inmates released from state prisons in 1994 committed at least one serious crime in the three years following their release. A recent study suggests that GED corrections education can be a positive step for both inmates and overcrowded prison systems.
John Nuttall authored the adult correctional education study “The Effect of Earning a GED on Recidivism Rates,” which includes data on three groups of inmates in the New York State Department of Correctional Services. The study tracked inmates who earned a GED diploma while incarcerated, inmates who already had a high school diploma or GED test credential, and inmates who did not earn a GED while incarcerated. Inmates who earned their GED diploma were significantly less likely to return to custody within three years. Offenders under the age of 21 who earned their GED diploma were 14% less likely to return to prison within three years, while prisoners over 21 were 5% less likely to return to prison after earning a GED diploma. Education in prison systems is an effective way to lower recitivism. A copy of Nuttall’s study is available here
Teaching in prisons presents unique issues. GED test prep programs are not new in adult correctional education facilities, but corrections education facilities often have limited funding, and many inmates do not function well in traditional school environments. Technology-based educational tools have vast potential benefits for corrections education environments. Multi-media educational software offers learners the ability to work at their own pace, appeals to multiple learning styles, and can be enjoyable and involving. Software-based GED test prep programs are also inexpensive to implement.
The potential return on an investment of $50 to $200 per adult learner for a software-based GED test Prep program could be significant, considering the costs of re-incarcerating a prisoner. The U.S. Department of Justice reports an average cost of $24,440 a year per Federal prisoner, and in some state prison systems, the costs are even higher.
Recidivism doesn’t only mean more crowded prisons and a more costly society. More crimes are being committed, leading to a higher crime rate. The GED test credential is only one step to former inmates’ success after prison, but it is an important one. Technology makes GED education affordable and effective for adult correctional education.
Michael Ormsby is the president of The GED Academy and oversees software and curriculum for adult learners and people with educational challenges. For more information, visit passGED.com. Michael can be contacted by telephone at 800-460-8150.