A strong correlation exists between educational achievement and incarceration rates: the more educated an individual is, the less likely he/she is to become involved in the criminal justice system (Vacca, 2004; Harlow, 2003).  Studies have shown that educational programs during incarceration significantly reduce recidivism.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, correctional populations, including jails, prison, and probationers, have a substantially lower level of academic achievement in comparison with the general population (Harlow, 2003).

In Santa Clara County, 45.3% of adult residents have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher.  This is much higher than the statewide percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is 305 (US Census Bureau, 2012).

In contrast, data from the Santa Clara County Probation Department shows that only 16% of moderate- and high-risk probationers have any higher education: 

  • Nearly one in ten (8.7%) of the respondents completed the ninth grade.
  • Almost one third (31.5%) of the respondents completed grade levels 10 through 12 but did not graduate from high school or completed a GED.
  • About one quarter (24.8%) of the respondents graduated from high school
  • Nearly one fifth (19%) of the respondents earned a GED.
  • A little less than one fifth (16%) of the respondents completed some higher education courses.

Some groups are even less likely to have experience in higher education courses.  Young probationers between ages of 18 and 25, Latino probationers, high-risk probationers, and probationers with a history of federal or state prison were all less likely to have any higher education.

High-risk probationers have the greatest challenges linked to education. Only 10% of high-risk probationers have experience in higher education, compared with 35% of low-risk probationers.

Similarly, high-risk probationers are more likely to have been assigned to special education classes as youth.

  • About one fifth (21%) of CAIS respondents were assigned to special education classes.
  • The remainder (79%) of CAIS respondents were not assigned to special education classes.

Some subgroups of respondents were more likely to have histories in special education. Young probationers between the ages of 18 and 25, Latino probationers, and high-risk probationers were all more likely to have been assigned to special education or remedial classes.

Nearly one third (29%) of high-risk probationers have a history in special education compared with 16% of low-risk probationers.

Data on women probationers paints a similar story. During a focus group conducted with women on probation in Santa Clara County, educational achievement was chosen as one of the top five issues affecting their abilities to successfully reenter society. A gender analysis study surprisingly found that 65% of female respondents at the Elmwood Correctional Facility had a high-school diploma or GED (County of Santa Clara Commission on the Status of Women, 2008). However, in a county with such high educational achievement rates, a high school diploma is merely a stepping stone.

This rate of educational achievement in Santa Clara County presents formerly incarcerated individuals released to Santa Clara County with yet another obstacle to face when attempting to become employed: employers have the choice of hiring uneducated individuals with criminal histories versus educated individuals without criminal histories. Despite the perks that exist for hiring convicted felons, such as a tax write-off, it just does not add up in the long run. Without formal education, many formerly incarcerated individuals released to Santa Clara County will have difficulty competing for jobs that offer living wages.


To increase educational opportunities for moderate- and high-risk offenders in custody and in the community.


  1. Conduct educational assessments of moderate- and high-risk offenders to determine their educational capabilities.
  2. Offer targeted remedial and supportive educational programs to boost basic skill proficiency levels of inmates and formerly incarcerated individuals.
  3. Provide access to college-level courses during and after incarceration, financial aid, and support services.
  4. Offer supportive programs to prepare formerly incarcerated individuals for the necessary discipline and focus required for long-term commitment to educational goals.


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