Daily Archives: March 28, 2015

Education, the Prisoner and Recidivisim

In studies on prisoners, education, and recidivism, the results show a decrease in recidivism by those prisoners who received education while incarcerated. Based upon findings reported in ‘Education Reduces Crime, Three-State Recidivism Study,’ [Education, The Prisoner, and Recidivism, Stephen Steurer, Ph.D., Project Director, and Linda G. Smith, Ph.D., Research Consultant] (Feb. 2003), “The research reported here shows strong support for educating incarcerated offenders. All of the analyses described lead to several compelling conclusions.” For instance, a reduction in recidivism, and “higher wages that generally indicate that individuals are better able to support themselves and their families, and that they are engaged in jobs that hold promise of sustainability.” Image courtesy journalstar.com

As noted by the authors in their conclusion, “Focusing solely on recidivism would be inadequate, however, especially when there are many other meaningful outcomes such as family stability, workforce participation, and cost savings/benefits.” Society gains if a former prisoner becomes a productive member, instead of another crime statistic in the making. The would-be-recidivist becomes a taxpayer instead of a tax liability; many become supportive family members, community servants, skilled laborers, or business professionals helping to build their communities.

In another report, “Cuts in Prison Education Put Illinois at Risk,” written by Robert Manor, with assistance from John Maki, both from the John Howard Association of Illinois, “It costs anywhere from $17,000 to $64,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate, depending largely on the security level of the prison … Education sharply reduces the likelihood that someone will recidivate. A 1997 study published by the Illinois Department of Corrections found that postsecondary education cut recidivism by two-thirds, from 39 percent to 14 percent.” The 1997 Illinois recidivism rate is substantially less than the 1997 National average of 67.5% for the “Re-arrest” recidivism rate of those released in 1994 Bureau of Justice Statistics Reentry Trends in the U.S.: Recidivism, which said something positive for the State of Illinois before they stopped what was working.

Providing postsecondary education apparently made a difference. In the Federal Bureau of Prisons, only a few can afford college correspondence courses, since Congress restricted prisoners from receiving federal student aid – including the need-based Pell Grants – in 1994. Even though the Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR) offers an Inmate Scholarship Award program, which pays a portion of tuition fees, most prisoners cannot pay the difference and even more don’t even know about it or how to apply, so only a few can capitalize on the available benefit. (UNICOR inmate pay ranges from $30.00 to $180.00 per month: some slightly even more, but most around $100.00 or less) With federal prisoners in UNICOR earning more than state prisoners, that should give you an idea about the state of affairs in state prisons, and why recidivism rates are soaring. The federal government offers its prisoners a GED. Therefore, most prisoners leave prison armed with a GED to compete against those without a criminal history, packing postsecondary education degrees. The released prisoner’s criminal history alone presents a barrier to gainful employment in many situations, which often results in more victims, more recidivism, and more crime statistics. Providing prisoners with opportunities for postsecondary education reduces all three statistics.

In the article about Illinois being at risk, the authors wrote, “The more education an ex-offender has received in prison, the less likely he or she will again commit a crime.” Those studies remove doubt about the cost-effectiveness of educating prisoners, since it costs more to incarcerate than to educate. Therefore, there is no logical explanation for legislatures to vote to remove educational opportunities for the disadvantaged. The fear of a “Soft on Crime” label is the only explanation for such poor decisions by our Nation’s leaders. Recidivism has numerous associated costs: cost of law enforcement solving crimes, capturing and detaining criminals for judicial proceedings; judicial cost of jury trials or plea bargains; appellate processes, post-conviction relief efforts, and the cost of re-incarceration. A more cost-effective approach is for government to reduce recidivism by providing 1) educational opportunities, 2) substance abuse treatment, and 3) psychiatric care to those in need. Continuing to pay for the repeating costs of the recidivist is not financially responsible when other alternatives exist.

“More importantly, less recidivism means greater public safety. … No one can put a price on public safety, but crime prevention is the most important benefit of prison education programs.”

Life From “F”s to “A”s

I hated haircuts and going to school when I was a child. I made straight “F”s in the public school system and eventually dropped out because I kept getting expelled for disruptive behavior. I thought I was dumb because of my straight F average. Now I feel the low self-opinion came from the negative criticism I received regularly. Anyway, things change. Today I cut my own hair and wear it relatively short, and regret that I used to be disruptive and disobedient and hated school. I value the education I have since obtained.

At fifteen-years-old, on the second day of school (I had skipped the first day), the principal expelled me for the remainder of the school year for throwing a book at a teacher. I was already on Aftercare/Probation because I had served time at the Youth Development Center in Augusta, Georgia for drug charges and stealing a car, so the court made me go to school at the Juvenile Detention Center in Clayton County. I was the only one in the class the teacher allowed to listen to music while doing class assignments. He let me use headphones to listen to vinyl records on what would now be viewed as an ancient record player. He also let me work at my own pace. I excelled in all areas of study, but when I returned to the public arena, I succeeded only in getting expelled again for the rest of the year. A teacher caught me coming out of the girls’ bathroom, where I had been inside smoking with a wannabe-girlfriend. He reached to grasp my arm and I yanked away and used several expletives to tell him to keep his hands off of me, which he did due to his fear of being assaulted. After that, I gave up on the school scene and stopped trying, which ultimately lead to me getting my education in the prison system–not a wise choice.

When I was nineteen-years-old, and in prison for burglarizing a house to steal guns, I got my GED. I did not have long to go before getting out, so the education staff put me in a prep class for two-months to prepare for taking an SAT. I barely scored high enough on it to qualify for taking the GED. And then when I took the GED I barely passed it, but I did pass, and did eventually use that GED to get into college (while in prison, of course).  I was terrible in math and could not even divide when I entered college, but I had scored high enough in all other areas to pass: I guessed 31-out of-50 right on the math part of the GED test. Anyway, when at the Y.D.C. in Milledgeville, Georgia, I had a math teacher who said, “You do everything backwards but still get the correct answer.” I knew you checked division with multiplication and vice-versa, so I would multiply to get the answers for division problems. I did not see an advantage in knowing math, other than how to count, but once I entered college and realized I would need to know math to figure out whether or not I was being cheated on interest rates, if buying a house or car, I applied myself and made an “A” in a remedial math class that brought my math skills up to college level. In college, the worse grade I made was one “C”; all other grades were “A”s and “B”s, and since I stopped getting high in 1995, I have never made anything less than “A”s. Today, I am a published author that I most likely would not be if I had not obtained my education. Experience taught me the value of learning how to read. I enjoy reading books written by someone knowledgeable in subjects of interest. The writer often saves me time by having accumulated and compiling data in the book or magazine that I can use in my quest for knowledge. The written word often gives me a reference point for beginning my own research for writing an article, essay, or short story. Books of the educational variety provide me with information to use to help others by helping them learn something they asked me about: Doing so makes me feel good because I like helping others.

Words have the power to affect a change. Just as I remembered the words of the math teacher, I also remember words from another teacher who commented that many people do not chew food before swallowing. Because of her words, I learned to take my time while eating and still have a good digestive system as a result of it. Additionally, an elderly House Parent, at the same place (Augusta Y.D.C.) once said to us that, “Two things that get you in trouble are your hands and mouth.”  I have seen the wisdom of her words many times.  That was over forty years ago.  The power in some words took years to overcome. I remember many words spoken to me during my youth, many of which I wish I had forgotten; especially, the critical ones from my mother, who told me I would never amount to anything. I still love her and forgave her several years ago. I realize that she only gave me what she had been given, so I do not hold that against her and know that she never meant to harm me. Realistically, she probably added other modifiers to the sentence, like “If you don’t change your ways,” but I only heard the words that tore into my soul. Now I use that memory in dealing with others by trying to avoid insulting or demeaning them because I do not want to possibly lessen their self-esteem, and in prison, the lack of self-esteem is common. Without my education, though, I would not have as many words to use for effect or have a clue about their effect on others. Words help me to communicate feelings.

Education and acquired knowledge helped me make better decisions in changing the direction of my life, as it will anyone who puts forth the effort to change. I am not special or unique.  I am only a man who found out that it is okay to admit mistakes, who has learned to use those mistakes to help others to avoid making the same ones. Twenty-six years later, as I near the end of this 35-year-federal prison sentence, it is my hope that the words I have written will help someone change the direction of their life. My mistakes lead to me spending most of my 57-years behind walls, bars, and fences lined with razor wire. Each of us have choices: A better education allows people to make better ones. Turn “F”s into “A”s and life will be better in the end. If for no other reason, for how you feel about the person who stares back in the mirror, which is more important than what any other person may think of you. Do not let someone else determine your self-worth. That is your choice. Keep the power and speak kindly to yourself and others.


Author:  I am a Georgia native who grew up in the Atlanta area. I have been in the custody of the United States Bureau of Prisons since August 18, 1988, for armed bank robbery and associated charges. I hope that doesn’t matter to you but I understand if it does. I live my life today much differently than I did in my youth. I was 31-years-old when arrested and will be 62 upon release on April 24, 2019.

I have been published over twenty-five times in various magazines and newsletters, many under another pseudonym I use because the Twelve Traditions of Twelve-Step programs require that I do. I’ve also been published in CONFRONTATION magazine, which is the literary journal of Long Island University; twice in THE ICONOCLAST, and have had several small clips published by THE SUN magazine out of Chapel Hill, NC.

Wayne T. Dowdy, #39311-019, B-3

P.O. Box 725, FCI

Edgefield, SC 29824-0725