Written by William Jackson
Most of you have probably heard about Likewise College on campus. If you have not, Likewise College is a non-profit organization started by Harding alumni Dr. Jeff Kreh that is working to provide a Christian liberal arts college education to our incarcerated neighbors in Arkansas. To some, it may go without saying that this is a worthwhile endeavor, but for those who might think otherwise, I would like to make a case that it is. I would like to illustrate that providing prisoners an education is a significant virtue in a Christian worldview, will increase quality of life in communities and is far more cost-efficient for society.
Those who have served prison sentences are some of the most stigmatized members of society. Hebrews 13:3 says to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.” In what is likely Jesus’ clearest teaching on the characteristics of those who will inherit the kingdom, Matthew 25:36 says, among other things, “… I was in prison and you came to me.” Christians cannot argue that the amount of love shown to a person should be measured by our evaluation of their character, and the informed should know statistics tell us that other groups of marginalized people, like the undereducated, unemployed, mentally ill and poor, are more likely to be incarcerated. The imprisoned “least of these” often have the least means of receiving an education – step one in the uphill battle that they will face for the rest of their lives. Christians should be involved in fixing this problem.
For many, the most pressing issue with prisoners is re-entrance into society. If you cannot find any compassion for these people, you have to at least concede that educating them will reduce recidivism, that is, the rate at which they are re-incarcerated. Jobs tend to be helpful in reducing crime. Life in our communities would be better with less crime and would lift some of the burden on our justice system, which brings me to my last argument.
It has generally been found that for every dollar invested in prison education programs that $4-5 will be saved in incarceration costs. That does not even include the costs saved in the justice system, welfare programs, economic growth from prisoners becoming productive again and the personal finances of crime victims. Perhaps some of that money could be used to also educate those who some might consider more deserving.
I once thought that investing more in people would teach them not to invest in themselves. However, I have come to realize that we are not all starting on an even playing field. There surely are many law-abiding citizens in dire need of an education. As Jeff has said, “Maybe someone should do something about that; and maybe, out of gratitude for what we’re doing, it’ll be one of the incarcerated men or women that get a Likewise education.”