As a nation, we are in desperate need of qualified workers and running out of places to look for them. Yet we also have millions of individuals sitting idle in prisons, 95 percent of whom will eventually be released. Sadly, our justice system has an abysmal record of preparing these individuals for life beyond concrete walls, especially when it comes to helping them enter the job market. In fact, one year after their release, over 60 percentof all formerly incarcerated individuals are still unemployed.

For the lucky few who do find employment, they are paid an average of 40 percent less than those with no criminal record. These individuals represent a potential pool of untapped resources for employers looking to hire new workers. But in order to ensure that the formerly incarcerated are suited for the modern workforce, we need to increase opportunities for them to receive an education while behind bars. Offering inmates postsecondary correctional education would provide a new world of opportunities for both these individuals and business owners.

Employers are looking for college educated individuals now more than ever. In fact, one study found that 61 percent of hiring managers have increased their educational requirements because skills for their positions have evolved and now require higher levels of education. The type of work available to job seekers is also changing. The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University found that by 2020, “employers will seek cognitive skills such as communication and analytics from job applicants rather than physical skills traditionally associated with manufacturing.” For those seeking employment, this means that the likelihood of attaining work will increase with greater access to higher education.

Businesses thrive when they hire educated employees. When employers have the option to hire from a larger pool of well educated candidates, they can strengthen their productivity and competitiveness. Investing in the educational futures of potential employees can add to the supply. By investing in postsecondary correctional education in particular, employers can help meet their own demand for highly skilled employees.

When businesses experience financial growth, employees also benefit through increased job stability and higher wages. For those formerly incarcerated who are reentering the workforce, both the routine and the responsibility of employment offer financial support and the ability to build a life removed from past habits that might otherwise lead to reoffending. This is critical, especially considering that although recidivism rates have improved somewhat, they are still alarmingly high with an estimated three-fifths of those released from prison are convicted of a new offense within five years of their release.

Higher wages for employees also translate to “stronger property values, better infrastructure, and more opportunities for investment.” Taken together, this means that access to postsecondary correctional education can not only be transformative for those directly affected, but can also bolster businesses and support local communities by producing a stronger, safer world for us all.

By expanding the pool of hirable candidates to include more formerly incarcerated individuals with a postsecondary education, businesses can increase their market competitiveness and support returning citizens. It is therefore in the best interest of the business community to support postsecondary education in prisons.

Image credit: angelo gilardelli