11.09.2009 Policy Points

Improving Correctional Education

A new policy brief from the Working Poor Families Project proposes ways to improve the educational programs offered to adult inmates of state prisons. Argues the brief:

Inmates in state prisons have significantly lower levels of
educational attainment than the general population. About 40
percent of state prison inmates lack a high school diploma or
GED5 compared to 13.7 percent of all adults ages 18 to 64.6 Only
11 percent of state inmates have taken any college-level or
postsecondary vocational classes.7 According to results from the
National Adult Literacy Survey, prisoners also have a
substantially lower level of literacy than the U.S. population as a
whole.8 Prior to incarceration, prison inmates are more likely
than the general population to be unemployed and to be living in
poverty.9

Inmates in state prisons have significantly lower levels of educational attainment than the general population. About 40 percent of state prison inmates lack a high school diploma or GED5 compared to 13.7 percent of all adults ages 18 to 64. Only11 percent of state inmates have taken any college-level or postsecondary vocational classes. According to results from the National Adult Literacy Survey, prisoners also have a substantially lower level of literacy than the U.S. population as a whole. Prior to incarceration, prison inmates are more likely than the general population to be unemployed and to be living in poverty.

Educational programming has been a part of the U.S. prison system throughout its history. Support for prison education programs reached its peak during the 1970s when policymakers viewed education as an important part of prisoners’ rehabilitation. However, support among policymakers and the public waned in the 1980s and funding for education in prisons underwent significant cuts.

To strengthen those programs, the brief identifies eleven policy actions that states could take.

  • Assess Inmates’ Needs and Offer a Variety of Programs That Meet Those Needs.
  • Target Vocational Training to Occupations Where Ex-Offenders Can Obtain Jobs.
  • Structure Programs to Emphasize Earning Credentials, Not Just Participation.
  • Partner with Community Colleges.
  • Assess the Need for and Provide English as a Second Language Instruction.
  • Increase State Support for Adult Basic and Secondary Education.
  • Increase State Support for Post-SecondaryEducation and Training.
  • Use Technology to Increase Participation.
  • Mandate Participation or Institute an Incentive System.
  • Make Skill Attainment the Goal of Prison Industry Programs.
  • Collect Better Data on Programs, Participation, Outcomes and Costs.
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