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Most Inmates Entering Ohio State Prisons Are High School Dropouts

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Monday, April 2, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Every time the state prison agency has checked in recent years, the numbers come back just about the same: Most people entering the state prison system lack high school diplomas.

"On any given day, you would find that about 80 percent that come in the door are high school dropouts," says Denise Justice, superintendent of the Ohio Central School District. That's the school district that operates inside of Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction facilities.

We reported earlier this year that one in five prison inmates lacked high school diplomas. Justice says that figure was wrong. It was based on a January 2011 report from the legislative committee that oversees Ohio’s prisons and youth services facilities.

That"one-in-five" figure in the committee report was based on a one-time snapshot of the number of inmates on the waiting list to get into prison GED programs, Justice says.

"The waiting list numbers were more like a tool for the school. It was never intended to be a number that other people would use," she says.

Prison staff put inmates on the GED-class waiting list as they enter the system, but prison inmates don't always report their high school graduation status accurately, Justice says. As each inmate's status is verified, staff have not always gone back and taken them off the waiting list--or put them on. And some high school dropouts in prison aren't even on the GED class waitlist. Inmates are only required to take GED classes for six months. Some drop out after that.

"And then we also have people who, no matter how much remediation they get, will never be able to get a GED or diploma," Justice says.

While 80 percent of people entering Ohio prisons lack a high school diploma or GED, on any given day, at least half of inmates do actually have a diploma or GED, Justice says. She says the two figures -- education levels for entering inmates vs. inmates in the system -- are different because prison staff confirm over time that inmates have the credentials and because inmates earn credentials in prison. Nationally, about 60 percent of state prison inmates have a high school diploma or GED certificate.

In 2011, just over 1,700 Ohio prison inmates received GEDs or high school diplomas. Another 14,500 or so inmates received other types of vocational or education certificates. All told, Ohio's state prisons hold about 50,000 people.

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