Education reduces inmates’ risk of re-offending

Mo Korchinski knows first-hand the value of education to prisoners. For more than a decade, she was an inmate in and out of Alouette Correctional Centre for Women (ACCW) in Maple Ridge, BC.

“Education is a huge factor, especially for people who have never worked,” said Mo. “Many jobs require a criminal record check, and I was led to believe that the only job I could do was construction labour.”

Today, through education and her determination, Mo is executive director of a nonprofit that helps inmates to readjust to society upon their release.

She is a prime example of how investing in education can change someone’s life and benefit society. Teachers, inmates and literacy practitioners are advocating for the provision of year-round K-12 education programs in all BC correctional centres.

Currently, 65% of people entering Canadian prisons have less than a Grade 8 education or level of literacy skills, and 79% don’t have a high school diploma.

Providing education in correctional institutions reduces the chances of inmates reoffending after they are released.

The Canadian government acknowledges research indicating that when inmates participate in education programs while incarcerated, it decreases recidivism by up to 30%. That number jumps to well over 50% for participation in post-secondary education. For Canadian taxpayers this translates to $6.37 in direct savings for every $1 spent on education due to its effect on recidivism, and the power education has in keeping an individual from reoffending.

The data in British Columbia is also clear.

“Considering the costs of keeping individuals in BC Corrections facilities – which is about $160,000 per year, averaging $439 per day – every person who avoids returning to the system results in substantial savings for the provincial budget,” said Kevin Heinze, a School District 42 teacher working with inmates at ACCW and Fraser Regional Correctional Centre.

“Numerous studies show the normal 80-85% recidivism rates drop to around 35% for inmates who graduate while incarcerated, meaning this is a substantial savings.”

Learning challenges and barriers

Yet, there is still a lack of access to consistent and diverse education opportunities, as well as a lack of reliable and consistent funding for programs.

“As a jail teacher, one of the first things you learn is just how far down the list of priorities educational programming is within the institution,” said Kevin.

“The primary functions of a school are teaching and learning. A jail’s primary functions are to control and protect. Everything takes a back seat to those functions.”

Teachers (and learners) in corrections facilities face unique challenges. In keeping with the facility’s primary function of security, inmates have no Internet access. The learners all have different needs and abilities. Medical appointments or inmate altercations result in classes being delayed, cancelled, or preventing a student from attending. Often inmates are released before they complete their courses. “You need to be prepared to teach any subject at any level in any given class. This is both exciting and exhausting. Simply moving from one student to the next could be going from teaching someone how to read a simple sentence to teaching secondary math.”

Inside the institution, teachers lack support staff. They are responsible for assessing students, advising course selection, registering students and scheduling classes. These very necessary but very time-consuming duties are in addition to the traditional teaching tasks of lesson preparation, running classes, marking work, providing feedback, and writing report cards. Jail teachers do this work, all the while being acutely aware of the financial specter that is the reality of corrections education. Currently, funding is tied to registration numbers that are determined by community-based, adult continuing education criteria that do not fit the reality of corrections. If registration numbers go down, funding is cut and teaching time at the jail is reduced. Thus, the K-12 education program is always under threat of cuts.

After inmates are released, whether or not they have graduated, they face new barriers, like how to get a job with a criminal record, how to afford to live when you can’t get a job, and how to afford continuing education.

This is where Mo has focused her efforts since the inception of a six-month pilot project in 2011.

Mo’s success story

Mo started her education journey while incarcerated, first completing her GED, then taking other courses and discovering she was smarter than she thought, and what she had been told.

“Education for most people inside prison is more than books and tests,” she said. “It’s a chance to build up our self-esteem and find our true ability that most people lost from childhood abuse and violence. I took that new confidence and went to college after I was released which I would never have done without the schooling inside the prison.”

She has since attained her BA in social work. Now, Mo is the executive director at Unlocking the Gates Services Society, leading its 21 employees, all of whom have come out of the correctional system. They help newly released individuals access the health and social services they need to help successfully reintegrate into society and reduce the chances of reoffending. In 2023, they supported more than 2200 offenders across BC upon their release.

She has co-written two books: Arresting Hope: Women Taking Action in Prison Inside Out and Releasing Hope: Stories of Transition from Prison to Community, with a third book, Raising Hope, on the way. By donating the proceeds from these books to education bursaries for released offenders, Mo supports their further education opportunities.

“We need to invest in people to help them change their lives,” said Mo. “Everyone is worthy and deserves access to education.”

Investing in incarcerated education

The Government of Canada has created a Federal Framework to Reduce Recidivism as a first step in putting together a plan that identifies crucial factors that impact why people reoffend and how to support safe and successful reintegration into the community. The Framework is structured around five priority areas to assist offenders with their reintegration: housing, education, employment, health, and positive support networks. It includes recommendations to partner with the provinces, provide clear direction and collaboration across government departments and agencies, and to connect with nonprofit organizations and volunteers.

BC Corrections partners with local school districts and literacy organizations to help people under supervision make a new start. They teach them to read, write and learn the skills they need to live independently, like using forms, maps, schedules and other documents, understanding math well enough to balance accounts, calculate tips or review receipts, and problem solving.

While the data is clear and collaboration is a great start, there are still issues with inconsistent funding and access to education programs. The traditional September to June school year does not suit the unique circumstances of correctional centres. As well, the current funding model requires teachers to spend a significant amount of time recruiting and documenting student participation to justify their teaching time. Because of the inherently precarious ability of inmates to attend class, funding is always at risk.

Elaine Yamamoto is literacy outreach coordinator at Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows-Katzie Community Literacy Committee, and she is also a school board trustee for the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows School District. She is pushing to secure K-12 education programs in all BC correctional centres.

“We have a core of dedicated teachers who work in very difficult environments to rebuild a broken trust in education for some of the most challenged learners,” said Elaine. “Without support and educational goals, released inmates are at a greater risk to reoffend. It is essential that school districts are fully funded to provide year-round K-12 education programs in every provincial correctional centre. This secure funding is an investment in the future well-being of both inmates and society at large and will contribute to safer communities and a more equitable society.”

About us

Decoda Literacy Solutions is BC’s provincial literacy organization. We support community-based literacy programs and initiatives in over 400 communities across BC by providing resources, training and funds.

Our work supports children and families, youth, adults, Indigenous and immigrant communities to help build strong individuals, strong families and strong communities.

 


Note for readers: There will be no blog posts April 19 or 26 due to the Decoda Literacy Conference.

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