NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico has been pushing education in prisons as a possible solution to keep inmates from reoffending and ending up back behind bars. This year, the corrections department says far more inmates than they ever expected have gotten their diplomas.

With one year done of his three-year sentence, Patrick Burgess is using his time to reclaim something that eluded him years ago. He dropped out of high school when he was a junior, but he is now one of the dozens of New Mexico inmates to earn his GED in a milestone class for the corrections department.

“One thing you find in adult education is that two things really make a difference: the first is a high level of flexibility for the learner,” says Amber Gallup, Director of Adult Education with the NM Higher Education Department. “The second thing that really assists, that really helps, is addressing the barriers to learning and achievement that people experience.” Gallup adds, “They may need tutoring. They might need additional time for testing. They may have had negative experiences in the past with traditional education that can really hold them back.”

Now that he has earned his GED, Burgess has begun to tutor those around him. “I had a lot of them. Once they’d seen how I was, they kind of came up to me and said, ‘Hey, would you help?'”

From July 2022 through last month, 198 inmates got their degrees; that number is up 87 from the year before. The corrections department partially credits the funding of the state’s higher education department for this surge in achievement. New Mexico now has more funding than ever before for inmate education, offering free testing and training; that education is truly making a difference. Gallup says, “What national research has found is that for every 1,000 inmates served by the prison education, up to 150 fewer people will return to prison than otherwise would have.”

The corrections department says it is also hoping to increase more career-based programs like training for commercial driver’s licenses, heavy equipment use, HVAC repair, and more.