The numbers don’t lie, but the public still needs convincing.
With many divided on what role prisons should play as social institutions, the University of Iowa is betting big on data that shows inmates exposed to education curriculums are 43% less likely to return to prison upon their release, per a 2013 research study by RAND. So while the public university’s efforts are starting modestly with a speaker series this fall, the school plans to expand higher education offerings to inmates in the near future in the hopes that participation doesn’t just keep convicts from returning, but establishes them as productive, sustainable members of society.
Iowa is one of many states hoping to find success in convincing the public and legislators that education in prisons doesn’t coddle or pamper prisoners, but rather exists to ensure their role once released. However, the fight to educate states on this matter isn’t enjoying an economy of scale. Many states are entertaining the discussion, but few draw from the efforts or data of other initiatives.
University of Iowa’s program, a partnership between the school’s Center for Human Rights and state penal institutions, starts with a conference titled “The Role of Transformative Education in Successful Re-entry: A Community Discussion.” Per a report from Cedar Rapids’ The Gazette, the speakers will include Jason Rubel, a former inmate who earned his bachelor’s degree via correspondence classes during his time in several penal institutions. Since his release, Rubel went on to earn a master’s degree in social work, leveraging his education to serve other inmates as a vocational rehabilitation counselor.
The initial speaker series will take place outside prison walls, serving to facilitate discussion and garner public support for what the data already shows — education is a fundamental tool in the rehabilitation of convicts. Anecdotal evidence, such as Rubel’s success story, should enable the public to put faces and human experiences to the statistics that have often failed to persuade the public to make such investments in the past.
Rubel, who served 10 years in state and federal prisons for drug violations, said to The Gazette, “It gave me purpose throughout my incarceration. I needed to figure out where to take my experience and make it an asset.”
The evidence is there, but hopefully, stories like Rubel’s and the leadership of state universities will make a more convincing case than the numbers alone have in the eyes of the public.