For Them, Education Is Literally the Best Way out

When students mock how schools resemble prisons, schools in prisons are in fact cherished by inmates, especially female prisoners. Recently, three news articles bring up the issue of education in female prisons. In California, female prisoners are trained with computer skills and they obtain certificates after graduation. In Tennessee, women involve in adult education programs where they earn diplomas equivalent to high school degrees. And in Montana, The Department of Corrections is considering adding computer programming classes to state prison education programs to improve inmates’ chances of getting jobs when they finish their sentences.

Internationally, the female prison population has increased 646% in the past three decades, primarily due to inmates receiving sentences for nonviolent, low-level offenses. The United States has 5% of world’s female population but 30% of women in prison, imprisoning more women than any other country.

屏幕快照 2015-11-30 下午5.51.08Facts that women prison population is contributing to mass incarceration and women face more discriminations in job market than men out of prison indicate more investment in education in prisons. However, skeptics argue that it is better to spend tax money on educating law-abiding citizens rather than educating criminals.

Westervelt responded with a 30-year meta-analysis study, “Education is a relatively low-cost program you can provide to inmates. But, when you look simply at direct costs, we find that for every dollar invested in a prison education program it will ultimately save taxpayers between $4 and $5 in reincarceration costs. That’s an enormous savings.” Study shows that education and vocational training in prisons reduce recidivism and improve job outlook. There are plenty of ongoing education programs in prisons of Norway, Germany, South Africa and the Dominican Republic.

But special attention should be paid to the growing population of female inmates. “Women come out unprepared,” said Roberta Meyers-Peeples, Director of the National H.I.R.E. Network, a project of the Legal Action Center. “Skill sets haven’t been updated, and there are no clear goals. There are daily struggles between mothers and children, dealing with agencies and parole, and substance abuse and alcohol.”

When we talk about women’s education and empowerment, we cannot neglect women who live in prison and women who are released but still anxious about leading a normal life. Education on knowledge and practical vocational skills could significantly prepare them for a brand-new start. After all, education is the best chance for them to re-engage in and even add value to society.



Davis, Lois M. (2013). Education and Vocational Training in Prisons Reduces Recidivism, Improves Job Outlook. Rand. org. Retrieved from

Erbentraut, Joseph. (2015). What the U.S. Can Learn from Prison Reform Efforts Throughout the World. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Hanson, Amy Beth. (2015). Prison Considering Computer Programming Training for Inmates. The Washington Times. Retrieved from

Infographic: Why The Women Prison Population Is Contributing to Mass Incarceration. (2015). Blacklisted News. Retrieved from

Richards, Greg. (2015). Inmates Earn Education and Skills in Johnson City Women’s Jail. Retrieved from

Straehley, Steve. (2015). U.S. has 5% of World’s Female Population, but 30% of Women in Prison. Retrieved from

Petley, Devon. (2015). The Education to Employment Link. Retrieved from

Weise, Elizabeth. (2015). Female prisoners in Calif. Prep for Life Outside with Autodesk certificate. USA Today. Retrieved from

Westervelt, Eric. (2015). Measuring the Power of a Prison Education. National Public Radio. Retrieved from


2 thoughts on “For Them, Education Is Literally the Best Way out

  1. Danchen, I enjoyed this post, particularly because it allowed me to think about a topic which I have never given much thought to – prison education.
    While education and employment becomes even more important in this situation, I would be interested in knowing about other parts of the curriculum taught inside prisons, as well. In particular, I would want to know more about the hidden curriculum – what ideas are reinforced? What does rehabilitative education look like? Must it focus only on vocational training or can it focus on subjects such as the humanities? If so, what would be taught to these women which would be ultimately useful to them when they leave the prison?


  2. Thank you so much for writing about this, Danchen! It is one of my favorite posts from our cohort this semester. I rarely, if ever, think about education in prisons, and so I learned a lot from what you wrote. I especially love the part at the end where you write about how — for as often as we talk about women’s empowerment — we often completely neglect populations of women in prison. I love how boldly you write!


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