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Study: Educational programs in prison work (Update)

Men watch television in a recreation area at Solano Prison.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation / EPA
Men watch television in a recreation area at Solano Prison.

A study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice released Thursday studied data from thousands of in-prison programs nationwide and found that those inmates who participate in educational or vocational training are 43 percent less likely to return to prison once released.

The study, completed by the RAND Corporation, also found the upfront investment in such programs (about $1,400-$1,800 per inmate) is minimal compared to the cost of incarcerating a person multiple times.

About 700,000 inmates leave state and federal prisons each year. Typically, about half return to prison within three years of release. 

Renford Reese, founder of the Prison Education Project — which operates educational programs in several California state prisons — said it's becoming more and more widely accepted that investing more in programming could cut that high recidivism rate.

"It's becoming an apolitical issue," Reese said. "Democrats and Republicans agree that draconian and hyper-punitive policies have proven to be counterproductive and a fiscal disaster." 

But, Reese said, the recession has prevented progress from taking full form. About four years ago in California, the state cut hundreds of millions of dollars from its prison rehabilitation budget. That funding has now partially been restored. 

University of California, Irvine Criminology Professor Susan Turner, who worked on the RAND study, said the state's making its way back to where it used to be.

"The capacity, although it's been improving greatly since the cuts, is not where it was before the cuts," Turner said. 

State officials said they hope to have about 50,000 inmates enrolled in educational or vocational programs by the end of the year.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained the full study. It was removed at the request of the RAND Corporation.