On Thursday, March 21, 2019, the Center for Law and Policy participated in a conference as a member of the Florida Prison Education Project (FPEP) at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. At that conference, the new head of the Florida Department of Corrections, Mr. Mark Inch, addressed the attendees confirming the importance of secondary education in the rehabilitation of inmates in our prison system. Unfortunately, the Secretary admitted that the Florida Legislature’s focus for inmate education centered on GED programs which left no money (zero) for secondary education.

Secretary Inch admitted that the benefit for college classes was two-fold. The first, and more immediate benefit, was to combat inmate idleness. According to the Secretary, inmate idleness was the number one cause of fights, crimes, and danger in the prison facility. According to a January 22, 2018, Miami Herald Newspaper Article, more inmates died in Florida prisons in 2017 than any other year previously. The total amount of deaths was 428 which showed a 20 percent increase over previous years. Prisons by their nature are dangerous places and anything that can be done to mitigate that violence is a positive thing in the mind of the government.

The second benefit was the effect of education on inmate recidivism. Recidivism refers to the number of inmates who complete their prison sentence and then turn around and reoffend. Much research has been conducted on inmate recidivism and factors that contribute to the phenomenon. Some studies find that secondary education in our prison system can reduce the chances of inmates reoffending by as much as 40 percent. Evidence also indicates that for every dollar spent on college education in our prison system, four to five dollars is saved on future incarceration expenses.

The key is funding. As stated previously, the legislature has set aside absolutely no money for secondary education classes in prison. What is even more frustrating is no matter the length of the prison stay, inmates are not considered residents of Florida when they are housed in a Florida facility. Therefore, inmates must pay for classes at the out of state resident rate.

Whether you support college education for inmates or not, it is very telling that the people in charge are among the staunchest of supporters. For many, the issue is one of fairness. Fairness in treatment of inmates. But more importantly, fairness in treatment of those who are not incarcerated. Why should prisoners have access to educational opportunities when I do not? No matter what your position is, if this is a topic that interests you, you can find out more about FPEP at its website cah.ucf.edu/fpep.

-By Marc Consalo, Director of the Center for Law and Policy