Individuals who are exposed to a prison environment are subject to a lifestyle that fundamentally alters their ability to function as a human being, and affects the way that they react on the outside of the walls upon release. However, the conditions of prison do not account for the number of individuals, specifically African Americans, who return to prison following their release. According to statistics from the NAACP, there are currently 2.3 million people in the prison system, 1 million of them are African American (Criminal Justice). Moreover, the African Americans tend to commit crimes that necessitate their return to jail, known as recidivism, at a rate of 76%, a rate much higher than any other racial group (Criminal Justice). The only means to explain this is that the African American recidivism rate for prison is a result of a prison system, economic system, and social system designed to keep African American offenders from garnering a gainful lifestyle following prison.
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The first problem that faces African Americans in terms of recidivism is still inside of the prison walls. There are various elements that exist within the prison system that prevent individuals from becoming educated and rehabilitated members of society. The first one of these elements that must be explored is the lack of an education system within the prison system. The Campaign for Youth Justice notes that 40% of all prisons in the United States that are home to youthful offenders, individuals under the age of 21, do not have any educational facilities (Ryan, 2013).
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As a result, these individuals will spend the duration of their jail sentence away from school and positive learning communities that will dictate their future. The fact that prisons do not actually provide education for individuals that are in jail makes it obvious that they are not the institutions of rehabilitation that so many of them claim to be. The sad fact of the matter is that this puts people in the prison population at risk for recidivating, and since the prison population is overwhelmingly African American, it puts this group at a higher rate than all others. Unfortunately, for these uneducated people that are sent to jail, their future is much bleaker as a result. Out of these thousands of African American youth offenders that went to prison, only 61 percent of them will go on to complete a high school diploma (Ryan). There are many limitations that are imposed an individual when they do not have an education. This sets the stage for failure for individuals in detention centers and jail, who will have a much more difficult time finding jobs that will sustain them once they are released from prison.
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As a result of not being able to get a formal education on the inside of prison, many people in prison turn to learning how to work in a criminal enterprise so that they can survive on the outside. They will gain contacts from prisoners for people that they can work with on the outside to commit crimes, knowing that they have few other choices if they want to make a living. Unfortunately, the effect of this lack of education in prison and the subsequent replacement with a criminal education is that these prisoners return to the street with no education and have only their friends from the inside to turn to for help. This effectively sets up African Americans, the primary group within prisons, for returning to prison, as they turn towards a complete life of crime. This can, in the worst cases, turn a juvenile offender into a youth that views crime as a way of life, if not an inevitability.
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