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Cheaper to Educate than Incarcerate: How PFEF Stops Intergenerational Incarceration

The concept of intergenerational incarceration helps explain how the children of parents behind bars are six times more likely to follow their parents into the prison system. This vicious cycle not only affects individual boys and girls but also their communities and society as a whole.

Thankfully, organizations like the Pitzer Family Education Foundation (PFEF) help combat generational incarceration through ongoing education. By offering scholarships, PFEF provides children of inmates with the tools and opportunities they need to break free from the cycle of crime and imprisonment.

PFEF takes a stand against intergenerational incarceration

Percy Pitzer retired as a warden at the US Penitentiary in Beaumont, Texas, with over 40 years of correctional experience under his belt. Early on in his career, he recognized the serious risk faced by children of the inmates he served.

“The cycle was all around me,” Pitzer recalls. “I felt like I looked into the faces of our next clients every time I walked into the visiting room. With a parent in prison, these kids deal with emotional difficulty, financial hardship, and social stigma. They are more vulnerable to peer pressure and risky behaviors that lead them down the same path as their parents. Without intervention, they can easily become trapped in a cycle that is extremely difficult to break.”

Yet even after retiring, Pitzer discovered he was not ready to stop searching for solutions to intergenerational incarceration. His first step was to establish Creative Corrections, an outside firm that steps in to conduct audits of correctional facilities and improve prison management.

“When we improve operations, the facility’s staff can focus on long-term goals instead of putting out day-to-day fires,” Pitzer explains. “That’s when I can come in to help rally the inmates to fight intergenerational incarceration right along with me.”

Although Pitzer is aware that most prisoners lack access to financial resources, he notes the value of their participation. “If even just 10% of the 1.2 million individuals detained in state and federal prisons contributed $1 each month, they would raise over $1 million every year. But even beyond the financial gain, the pride inmates feel in helping their families is exactly the kind of pro-social values they need when it comes time for them to re-enter society successfully.”

To date, the $240,000 raised by inmates through PFEF has helped fund nearly 200 individual scholarships. “In my experience, inmates are extremely likely to rally behind a cause when they see how their actions contribute to a greater good,” Pitzer notes. “You just have to show them how it makes sense.”

In addition to the assistance from inmates, Creative Corrections has donated $1.4 million to fight intergenerational incarceration. “I built my career around the corrections system,” Pitzer remarks, “so when Creative Corrections achieved success, my wife and I decided the time had come for us to give back.”

Educate or incarcerate?

In total, the United States spends over $ 55 billion on incarceration every year. To break this vast sum down, the average annual cost to keep someone in prison equates to approximately $45,771. Over the length of a prison sentence, it’s easy to see how just one prisoner’s costs quickly escalate into thousands — or even millions — of dollars.

On the other hand, investing in the lower price of education leads to long-term positive outcomes and significant savings. By providing inmates and their families with access to scholarships, PFEF gives them a chance at a brighter future by reducing their likelihood of returning to prison, thereby leading to significant cost savings for the criminal justice system and American taxpayers.

“Our scholarships range from $1,000 to $5,000, are awarded based on each student’s need, and can be renewed for up to four years,” states Pitzer. “After applying for Pell Grants, the additional funds we provide help students purchase books and cover the remainder of their tuition.”

The funds that PFEF raises for its scholarships enable children of incarcerated parents to enroll in college, trade school, and trade certificate courses. These critical financial aid opportunities serve as catalysts for transformation and empowerment, opening doors to an education that helps provide those children with the means to find employment, build successful careers, and lead productive lives.

Indeed, American society at large pays a high price for intergenerational imprisonment. “The general public tends to think that putting an offender behind bars solves the problem,” remarks Pitzer. “The truth is that incarceration means a community’s problem has just begun because the chances are so high that the inmate will eventually return to prison, and if they have children, the cost will drag on for generations to come.”  

As Pitzer explains, when communities take the initiative to invest in the children of incarcerated parents, they invest in a better future for everyone. This approach helps build stronger, safer communities that see dividends in the power of learning, redemption, and new beginnings.

“We need the community’s support to break the cycle of intergenerational incarceration,” Pitzer concludes, “and education is the key to this. It gives children of inmates the tools and skills to transcend their circumstances. Investing in these kids’ futures gives them the knowledge, self-confidence, and resilience they need to overcome adversity and beat the odds.”

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