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The Correlation between the Level of Education of an Incarcerated Person and their Recidivism Rate

Recidivism is a concern of many educational leaders, community activists and policymakers in our country. Recidivism is when “a person's relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime (U.S. Department of Justice, 2016).” Numerous studies have been conducted on what indicates a high probability for recidivism, and the data shows it correlates extensively with a person’s education level. Scholars such as Lois Davis and Dr. David Olsen have contributed evidence to the notion that the level of education attained by an incarcerated person plays a major factor in determining if they will be successful upon reentry into society after serving time behind bars. This article looks to identify two factors for the high correlation which plays a major role in contributing to this issue: 1) Socio-economic factors and 2) lack of job opportunities upon release from prison.

Socio-economic factors:

Psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow once said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” Dr. Maslow’s quote can be contributed to the social and economic factors we encounter which shape our perception of the world. According to Dr. Carol Seefledt, everything from parental involvement to cultural identity affects our social development and the way we interact in society. These experiences, such as: exposure to criminal activity (drugs, gangs, domestic violence, etc.), education level of parents/guardians, community you live in, religious background, etc., can lead us to make positive or negative decisions. Schools however can combat the negatives we experience to provide a positive outlook. “At school, they find they must share not only materials, toys, and time but also the attention of the teacher. Here they learn to cooperate, see others’ viewpoints, and work together for the common welfare (Seefeldt, 2005).” In turn, an education can provide an alternative path for someone to become a positive member of society. However, if the individual does not see the importance of obtaining an education and lets negative influences dictate their judgment; they face a higher risk in committing a crime that leads to prison. This ultimately leads me to my next factor: lack of economic opportunities upon release from prison.

Lack of Job Opportunities:

For example, in Roanoke City, VA (where I currently reside), the percent of persons living below poverty level is 21.9% (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2016). Looking deeper into this data, 65.2% of those people reported to have an educational attainment of “less than high school graduate to some college (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2016).” When you factor these living conditions in conjunction with the negative examples listed previously, people will do whatever they can to make money to provide for their families. This correlation heightens even more once an individual is released from incarceration due to the negative stigma they face by potential employers and the lack of higher education they have attained (Ray, Grommon, & Rydberg, 2016). Because of these challenges, former prisoners will lack qualifications for jobs and/or fall within the poverty bubble previously mentioned.

In order to combat the high correlation between the level of education attained by an incarcerated person and their recidivism rate, we must all make a stronger effort to reinforce the value of education for everyone. There have been examples of progress with prisons instituting college-based programs for prisoners (Kim & Clark, 2013), but the journey is still ongoing. Teachers, politicians, and community activists must continue to work together to reinforce the value of education to minimize the recidivism rate in our communities.

Works Cited:

Davis, L. M. (2016, July 12). Education and Vocational Training in Prisons Reduces Recidivism, Improves Job Outlook. Retrieved from RAND Corporation:

Kim, R. H., & Clark, D. (2013). The effect of prison-based college education programs on recidivism: Propensity score matching approach. Journal of Criminal Justice , 41(3), 196-204.

Olsen, D. E., Stalans, L. J., & Escobar, G. (2016). Comparing Male and Female Prison Releasees across Risk Factors and Postprison Recidivism. Women & Criminal Justice, 26(2), 122-144.

Ray, B., Grommon, E., & Rydberg, J. (2016). Anticipated Stigma and Defensive Individualism During Postincarceration Job Searching. Sociological Inquiry.

Seefeldt, C. (2005). Social Studies for the Preschool/Primary Child. In C. Seefeldt, Social Studies for the Preschool/Primary Child (pp. 132-136). New York City: Pearson Education Inc.

U.S. Department of Commerce. (2016, July 13). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved from Quick Facts: Roanoke City VA:

U.S. Department of Justice. (2016, July 8). National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from Recidivism:

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