Prisoners earn more GEDs

GEDs awarded by the Ohio Central School System – the prison school district – plummeted 34 percent from 2,510 in 2008 to 1,661 in 2010 when staffing was cut. Prison education funding has continued to decline but officials say they’re making better use of the resources and the school system issued 2,121 GEDs last year.

The turnaround bodes well for Ohio taxpayers.

Inmates who complete education programs behind bars are 43 percent less likely to return to prison and employment after release is 13 percent higher among convicts who participated in academic or vocational education programs than those who didn’t, according to new research from the RAND Corp. Ohio’s recidivism rate last year hit a record low of 28.7 percent, which is well below the national average.

Ohio Central School System Superintendent Denise Justice said research shows for each dollar spent on corrections education and vocational training, it saves $4 down the road.

DRC spent $30.75 million on prisoner education last year, down 22 percent from $39.4 million spent in 2009.

Ohio DRC’s GED rate is 41.4 per 1,000 inmates, above the national average of 31.8, according to a survey of 41 states by the Ohio Correctional Institution Inspection Committee. Washington has the highest rate at 74.7 while California has the lowest at eight per 1,000 inmates.

Ohio operates an adult school in each of the prisons across the state and serves about 21,000 students each year.

The GED system is undergoing a major overhaul, moving from paper and pencil tests to computerized tests, this year. Justice noted that most test sites have a dip in passage rates whenever there is a big change to the test system. DRC has been planning for the transition to computerized testing, buying computers and materials over the past several years, she said. Justice predicted that DRC will see a drop in GEDs earned this year but then the upward trend will continue.

Justice, who has spent most of her 33 year education career in the state prison system, said about 80 percent of the arriving inmates do not have a high school diploma or GE, the average literacy rate fluctuates between fourth and eighth grade levels and a significant percentage have learning disabilities.

The prison school system offers classes to help inmates earn their high school diplomas, GEDs or training certificates in trades such as culinary arts, turf management or fish hatchery.

“I think that we have done yeoman’s labor, eking every possible ounce out of every dollar that we get,” Justice said. “The OCSS staff work very, very hard and they’re dedicated at what they do. We get excited at our graduation ceremonies to see the guys who didn’t want to be at school and hated school and they discover that they’re not dumb, they can learn and they begin to move through and attain other education.”

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