College, sheriff team up to reduce recidivism

Education has the greatest impact at the lowest cost

THE UNITED STATES puts more of our citizens in jail than any other country on the planet.

While we have only 5 percent of the world’s total population, we have 25% of the world’s prisoner population. According to the World Prison Population List, an astonishing 716 of every 100,000 Americans are behind bars in local and county jails, state prisons, or federal penitentiaries.

Nationally, imprisonment falls disproportionately on low-income and minority citizens.  Though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32 percent of the US population, they are 56 percent of all incarcerated people in America.

In addition, many inmates lack educational credentials that would prepare them for the workforce.  About 40 percent of prisoners in state and federal prisons and local jails do not have a high school diploma, and up to 50 percent have some kind of learning disability, and are in need of additional special education services.

For our criminal justice system to be effective, we must recognize that various levels of punishment are necessary but should be based on the facts and circumstances presented in each case.  Jails and prisons remain a necessity for some, but the current approach to mass incarceration has proven too costly, and too ineffective, for everyone involved:

With the passage of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Act in 2018 by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker, Massachusetts became the leader in a national effort to  reduce rates of incarceration, including how juvenile offenders are treated in the criminal justice system, and how states can implement an array of services –education and employment counseling, behavioral therapy, substance abuse treatment, and domestic violence prevention – to reduce the need for imprisonment.

As a result, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice, between 2007 and 2017, 34 states reduced both imprisonment and crime rates at the same time; and Massachusetts led the pack, with the steepest declines in both crime (40 percent) and incarceration (51 percent). Massachusetts now has the lowest incarceration rate in the country.

Of all the ways proven to help reduce the likelihood that someone who has been in prison is going to commit another crime, the one that has the greatest impact for the lowest cost is quite clear:  Education.

A national study of the effectiveness of correctional facility education programs by the Rand Corporationreveals that:

  • Inmates who participate in correctional education programs are 43 percent less likely to re-offend than those who do not.
  • The odds of finding a job after release for inmates who participate in correctional education is 13 percent higher than for those who do not.
  • For every $1 spent on prison education, taxpayers save $5 on incarceration.

For all these reasons, the Essex County Sheriff’s Department) and Northern Essex Community College are proud to be working together on a $1 million project to provide educational and vocational skills for inmates in the Essex County Correctional Facility, the Jail and House of Correction in Middleton, the Essex County Pre-Release Center in Lawrence, the Women in Transition facility, and in support of the Sheriff’s community-based re-entry initiatives.

The Essex County sheriff’s office and Northern Essex Community College are focusing specialized efforts on the high risk/high need inmate population – those most likely to recidivate – through directed interventions involving academic testing and education efforts, clinical interventions and programming, as well as connections with our many enthusiastic re-entry partners.

Even through the obstacles of the COVID-19 pandemic, Northern Essex faculty and staff have been working “behind the walls” with corrections professionals at each of these facilities, providing inmates with the opportunity to complete their high school diplomas, learn English-as-a-second-language; improve reading, writing, and math skills; access a special lending library; and take classes in computer applications.

With the groundwork now laid through the partnership between the Essex County Sheriff’s Department and Northern Essex Community College, a comprehensive network of services are available to inmates as they reenter our communities, including additional education, job training and employment, transition housing, medical and substance abuse follow-up, and mental health treatment, each “handed-off” to community-based partners with client monitoring provided by the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, Probation, and/or Parole.

A generation ago, many people approached criminal justice with a “Lock them up and throw away the key” mentality.  Today, whether it is more humane treatments for inmates with opioid addiction, mental health treatment services, or education and training, we understand that our role is not simply to punish, it is also to prepare our “residents” for living productive lives when they reenter society.

Meet the Author

Meet the Author
Our most important job, and the most important job of every inmate, every correctional officer, and every college teacher and counselor in this program is ensuring that when each resident’s time is served, they walk out the door better than when they entered, and are more prepared for a brighter future —and they don’t come back.

Dr. Lane A. Glenn is president of Northern Essex Community College, with campuses in Haverhill and Lawrence. Kevin F. Coppinger is the Essex County sheriff and former police chief of the City of Lynn.