Why Prison Education?

“You’re taking people who are using tax dollars, and you’re converting them to people who are paying tax dollars. Criminal justice policy is economic policy.”  - John Nally, Director of Education for the Indiana Department of Correction


An abundance of research shows the efficacy of post-secondary education in reducing recidivism rates. With a current prison population of 2.29 million people, the United States maintains the highest per capita and percentage incarceration rates in the world. China comes in a distant second with 1.4 million incarcerated. Poor and minority communities are particularly affected by mass incarceration, with one in nine college-age African American men currently behind bars. The causes of this reality are complex, but a lack of access to high-quality education before, during, and after incarceration is a major contributing factor. THEInitiative works to address this challenge by providing students with the education and skills necessary to lead productive, intellectually engaged lives while in prison and upon return to their home communities.


Why post-secondary education for people in prison?

  • Our current prison policies, especially education, are in serious need of reform.

  • 2.3 million men and women are incarcerated in prisons in the US, and our tax dollars fund this.

  • The US has less than 5% of world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population.

  • In Tennessee, it costs $27,000 a year to incarcerate, but only $1000 to $1600 a year, depending on part- or full-time, to educate one individual.

  • Over 95% of those in prisons will get out, and nearly 50% of them will return to prison within 3 years.

  • Post-secondary education has proven to be extremely effective in reducing recidivism.

  • Recidivism rates go down further if education is continued post-release.

  • Lower recidivism saves millions in tax payer dollars, ensures safer communities, lessens prison violence, and creates productive fellow citizens.






The State of Tennessee has proven itself to be in the vanguard of education in the United States. In 2010, Tennessee became one of two states to win the competitive "Race to the Top" federal grant competition and the $500 million in educational funding that came with it. Tennessee has and continues to institute innovative educational reform at all levels, from pre-k to post-secondary education. Governor Bill Haslam has called himself the "higher education governor," and was active in the implementation of the Complete College Tennessee Act (2010) meant to reform all institutions of public higher education in Tennessee. Governor Haslam launched the Drive to 55 mission in 2013, which has the goal of 55% of Tennesseans with college degrees or certificates by the year 2025. As a further step towards the realization of that mission, Tennessee Promise (2015) and more recently Tennessee Reconnect (2017) make Tennessee the first state to offer free community college to all its citizens. THEI's mission is in line with Tennessee's educational goals by widening college access to a traditionally neglected segment of the population, and allows Tennessee to continue to be a beacon of dynamic and progressive educational change in the Southeast and in the nation by extending access to higher education to men and women behind bars.

Why Tennessee?

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1006 Shelby Avenue, Nashville, TN 37206

© 2019 Tennessee Higher Education Initiative