by Lisa Chang
Master of Communication in Communities and Networks
Ninety-five percent of the 2.3 million currently incarcerated individuals in the U.S. prison population will be released at some point. While their status as an offender can make securing employment after release difficult, increasing educational proficiency has been a powerful strategy for assisting inmates to find gainful employment, increasing their chances of successful reentry. Much like what astronauts experience re-entering earth’s atmosphere, former inmates need all the protection to avoid a potential collision upon reentry. Building on this metaphor, how can we bridge the empathy gap between inmates and members of the public to invest in their education?
Inmates are more successful upon release if they have higher levels of education and are able to secure employment. The subject of taxpayer-funded post-secondary education is often treated as a political issue, and maligned by some as a waste of taxpayer dollars or unfair for law-abiding individuals who must pay for their education. But we are paying anyway; we are paying even more to house and feed inmates who are not being be set up for success on the outside. By not investing in inmate education, or working to de-stigmatize their offender status and preparing them to re-enter society, we only serve to drive people back to prison. The challenge, then, is to bridge the empathy gap between members of the public and a population of people that many have already written off. We can do this by investing in their success as way to improve our communities.