Impact of Inmate Education Programs on Misconduct and Recidivism

John Wooldredge
Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati

Key Findings

  • While in prison, individuals who earned GEDs or completed college classes were less likely to engage in violence during incarceration than individuals who did not any classes.
  • Completion of vocational training had no effect on any type of misconduct incarcerated individuals.
  • Individuals who completed GEDs or college classes at any point during incarceration were linked to lower rates of prison returns within three years after release.
  • Individuals who started but did not complete any programs or classes had no difference in violence during incarceration or prison returns after release.


In the article, “Reducing Inmate Misconduct and Prison Returns with Facility Education Programs,” Wooldredge and his co-authors examined the effect educational programs have on inmate violence in prison and recidivism after release. Prison education programs have become increasingly popular over the last 15 years as an approach to reduce recidivism for people in prison as well as provide other benefits such as adding structured free time and helping to strengthen individuals chances for being hired. The authors collected their data in Ohio after the state initiated a program designed to reduce reoffending through education. The program required individuals without a high school diploma or GED in prison to participate for a minimum of six months. The authors studied 28 state-run institutions in 2011 and 2012 to analyze the effect the program had on individual’s behavior during and after prison. The results showed that the education initiative in Ohio improved outcomes for individuals in prison. Those who completed educational programs, GEDs or other college classes, were less likely to return to prison within three years after release. These individuals were also less likely to engage in violence during their incarceration. The researchers found that individuals who started but did not complete their education or only completed vocational did not see the same positive outcomes during or after their incarceration.

View Full Research