A Consideration of Education and Recidivism by Kyes Stevens (Alabama)

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” —Audre Lorde

Recidivism statistics and expectations are used to justify nearly all programming within the walls of prisons. To define success for a person leaving prison by recidivism further compartmentalizes their human existence—it is a non-descript term, used as a catch all, to hold value for any and all programming inside the walls and razor wires of a prison. It is a mechanism that further diminishes the humanity of people into numbers. In current higher education trends, programs and people are clamoring to prove worth by statistical measure, to encapsulate the complexity of human beings into a figure on a chart. Human beings don’t fit. At some point, maybe we’ll wake up to that.

In asserting that education is justifiable only to indicate success post release, we are trying to make the inherent beauty and human value of education fit within an existing and broken system—a system that is not working well for our country, for our people. Administrators of programs fight to be valued, to be funded, to be supported by our universities, by our DOCs, and communities vast and large. 

I want new tools and new language. I believe that education and art and creativity and learning and thinking and building community are human rights—and that we should invest in those things for all people, without having to justify why a human being has value enough to interact with learning. Rather than using existing measures that fail to document the vastness of being human, rather than looking for a silver bullet, I want us as a nation to use a language of active compassion, to seek understanding of all the ways education and creativity can grow the human experience. 

For change to happen, we must talk about the systems of incarceration and the people impacted by those systems in ways that fully acknowledge our shared humanity. We should not educate people in prison because of the potential impact on recidivism. We should educate people because it grows our nation, it cultivates us, not for any label other than human being.