Educating inmates is cost-effective

Higher education is the most effective tool we have against recidivism. That's what I told Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last month when she visited the Montgomery County Correctional Facility to learn first-hand about education programs for inmates run by Montgomery College. Forty percent of inmates don't have a high school diploma, according to a RAND study, putting them at high risk for unemployment upon release. Add a criminal record to that picture, and it is not hard to see why recidivism rates are so high. Inmates who are given the chance to study and train for specific career paths improve their chances of success, according to research. That's why community colleges across the United States have created education programs like ours.

Montgomery College began working with our local correctional facility in 2012 and has provided classes to thousands of inmate-learners on topics like computer science, food safety, digital literacy, as well as GED. Preparing former offenders for jobs upon release is a smart investment of resources. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as people achieve higher education levels, they are statistically less likely to commit crimes. A RAND study found a return on investment of six to seven times the initial cost of prison education programs. Additional benefits strengthen communities: Ex-offenders can rebuild their lives, families can reunite in the hope of permanence, and communities are safer with people gainfully employed.

As the U.S. Department of Justice highlights national re-entry week, I am thrilled that Secretary DeVos is shining a spotlight on the needs of this special population. Inspired by her visit, she noted that "access to education has proven to be transformative [for the formerly incarcerated]." I hope she will share with the Trump administration of the value of these programs.

DeRionne Pollard, Rockville

The writer is president of Montgomery College.

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