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Madison Haugland
Professor Alzen
24 January 2016
Literature Review
Mass incarceration in America today is singlehandedly silencing nearly five million
voices in numerous ways. Most people are blind to the implications of this issue. To put it into
perspective, President Obama won the popular vote by a little less than three million and four
times more American citizens have been imprisoned than all American causalities added together
from every war in our nations history. The prison system of America has silenced voices by not
providing adequate educational opportunities for criminals while in prison, by stripping away
many of their rights of citizenship, and by settling for mediocracy. This literature review will
focus on these issues and how they contribute towards the trend of recidivism and the silencing
of American voices, which ultimately alters the course of our nation.
The theory that recidivism and education are strongly correlated is becoming well-known
but why do these two activities go hand in hand? Recidivism refers to a felons backsliding into
criminal activity and so logically if a criminal is more educated and equipped to be a positively
contributing citizen, they will be less likely to become re-involved in the crime scene. Research
analyzed by Duguid (1981), Esperian (2010), and Vacca (2004) all suggest this same connection.
Despite Duguids work being published over three decades ago this just helps the validity of the
trend since signs of a correlation have been recorded since the 1980s. Duguids work is
foundational for most recidivism studies today. He discusses how education can be pivotal in a

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prisoners ability to make different decisions in the future, ones that will not lead to further
criminal activity. Duguid continues to describe the two essential elements prison systems need:
an essential concern of ethics or morality and a goal of the development of thought itself. The
development of thought itself is crucial. The importance of that concept is also supported by the
more modern writers Esperian and Vacca. Esperian argues that states should fund education
classes for inmates, for two reasons: doing so reduces recidivism dramatically and because
educating felons eliminates the costs associated with long term warehousing. Long term
warehousing refers to the fact that prisons have become human warehouses for holding as many
prisoners as possible and for long periods of time. The interviews with professional men and
women directly involved in the education of the incarcerated within this journal further prove the
value of education and its impact on recidivism. Similarly, Vacca explains that prisoners that
participate in educational programs while incarcerated are less likely to return to prison after they
are released. All the research points to this same conclusion. However Vacca goes a step further
and connects participation in the education programs to less violence within the prison. Vacca
highlights more than just one of the perks of effective education programs and what components
make them a success, which practically serves as a roadmap to improvement.
Clearly recidivism and education are correlated; hence improved education should be a
priority to improve the recidivism rate. This study shows how valuable education is to improve
someone criminal or not. A persons ability to communicate should not be denied them and it
should be offered effectively. The old idea that prison works is challenged by Burnett, R. and
Maruna, S. (2004) because imprisonment has gotten out of hand with many negative results. The
study follows up on 130 men and their subsequent criminal careers. Detrimental effects of mass
imprisonment upon society at large are seen by analyzing the lives these men were capable of

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leading after their release. Unable to access education or not being show the necessity of it
caused unfortunate consequences for several of them. In some instances men sank back into
criminal activity or were unable to attain higher paying jobs to provide for their families causing
poverty to take over their lives. America can no longer be under the guise that a prison sentence
alone will reform and improve a person. Jail time does not fix everything. Felons must be
equipped to live in the real world following release otherwise our justice system is breeding
more criminal activity by incarcerating people, not stopping it.
Mass incarceration is often disregarded because American culture is blind to the severity
of its effects and the history that has built up the issue. Evans (2009) develops the context of the
situation in his book so that the seriousness of the issue can be adequately addresses. Likewise,
Haugen (2013) also establishes the dire consequences of mass incarceration but his approach
utilizes pathos. Evans relies on numerical statistics compared to Haugen who utilizes interviews
with mothers of incarcerated teens to show a different side of the problem. So often the families
and people actually impacted by this epidemic are overlooked. Just as those directly affected are
typically ignored, Nunn (2005) explains the legal limitations of felons powers of citizenship,
which many are unaware of. Nunn outlines how the laws of certain states are disenfranchising
nearly five million free US citizens from casting a vote. Fourteen states permanently
disenfranchise ex-felons, thirty-five states exclude felons on parole, thirty-one states disqualify
those on probation, and forty-eight states and the District of Columbia deny the vote to all
convicted felons in prison. These numerous examples, alongside Evans statistical data and
Haugens personal encounters, prove that mass incarceration is striping away the rights of
American citizens and posing devastating effects to the youth and hence future generations of
Americans. Evidently lack of education is not the only way felons are being silenced; rights of

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citizenship which include the right to vote are being stolen from them while inflicting dire
psychological harm to the families entangled with mass incarceration.
Education is the key to self-improvement and success, yet criminals have very limited
access to this already meager system. Hughes (2012) and Rankin (2005) both discuss the
education system within prisons for what they are offering in and of themselves not just related
to recidivism. According to Rankins studies, the idea that prisoners being illiterate is a myth;
hence prison education is doing well. However his standard is set at a fifth-grade reading level.
Similarly Hughes highlights the aspect of prison education that are functioning well and instead
spends time discussing how to incentivize prisoners to participate. Both authors seem satisfied if
not pleased with the education available to prisoners but they seem blind to the true limitations of
the current system. Rankin believes a fifth-grade reading level is satisfactory and Hughes sees
the prisoners lack of motivation to want to learn as the major set-back. They eliminate the
possibility of the issue being rooted in the education being offered and instead settle or assume
its the peoples responsibility. Aspects of this viewpoint are true, but ultimately one cannot
dismiss the option that the problem relates to the level of education being offered. In addition,
Rankins study was based off one prison and then applied on a large scale; this leaves room for
error since this particular case study might just be an exception or statistically significant to not
be as random as it may appear.
Being satisfied with the progress and outcomes of the prison education system is not the
most popular view. Rankin (2005) and Hughes (2012) serve as counter arguments to the
viewpoint that the education system within prisons is inadequate. They look objectively at the
issue. However, the sense of humanity that the prisoners deserve is brushed aside as if they have
not earned the rights that every other American citizen has. Rankin heavily relies on the logos of

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his argument by immense amount of numerical data, whereas Hughes plays the ethos side
appealing to the integrity of her sources and persuasiveness of her argument. Despite their tactics
and intentions, the American voices that are being silenced under the masks of mass
incarceration and supposed access to good education are in need of defenders who will not settle
for mediocracy.
American voices of criminals or ex-felons are manipulated when denied access to quality
education, when denied certain rights, and when those in power compromise for inadequacy.
This not only effects todays adults but also todays youth; ultimately tomorrows future. The
course of America is forever being altered by silencing their voices. Our culture would be
radically different if these criminals were given better opportunities and equipped to positively
contribute toward society. The cycle of thinking that prison fixes everything must end. Other
paths must be made. Voices must be heard and speak.