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Pennsylvania’s Recidivism Crisis

| July 7, 2011

A recent report from the Philadelphia Daily News indicates that more than half of Pennsylvania’s former inmates are back behind bars within five years. In the last five years, the state spent roughly $244 million on returning inmates.

Part of the problem may be that Pennsylvania is not preparing its ex-offenders for gainful employment. A mere 2% of the corrections budget in Pennsylvania goes to GED or vocational training. Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said, “We need to do a much better job of partnering with community groups to aid inmates in their return to society…our role is to provide them with a meaningful opportunity to make a positive change in their lives.”

Meanwhile, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society William DeMascio said that “It’s an accepted and proven fact that the best way to reduce recidivism is through education…There are studies that show when programming gets cut recidivism increases. But the pressure is always on buying more razor wire and building the walls up a little bit higher.”

A recent study by the Correctional Education Association found that in-house education programs typically reduce the recidivism rate by around 29%. According to the study, “every dollar spent on education returned more than two dollars in reduced prison costs.”

According to the Urban Institute Reentry Roundtable, 19% of released prisoners have less than eight years of education, and 67% have less than a high school education. About 60% of released prisoners are unemployed. When faced with such difficult numbers, a high recidivism rate should come as no surprise.


RIGHT ON CRIME is a national campaign to promote successful, conservative solutions on American criminal justice policy—reforming the system to ensure public safety, shrink government, and save taxpayers money. By sharing research and policy ideas and mobilizing strong conservative voices, we work to raise awareness of the growing support for effective reforms within the conservative movement. We are transforming the debate on criminal justice in America.