Financial Literacy Curriculum: The Effect on Offender Money Management Skills

Article excerpt

Abstract

Offenders involved in this study lacked basic financial knowledge which presented a barrier to their success upon release. The researcher modified existing curriculum and created a course in financial literacy for offenders within a medium security correctional facility based upon their personal experiences. The offenders gained financial knowledge as measured by a pretest and posttest covering financial topics. Offender financial histories were identified in several areas such as savings and debt, banking experience, and housing. The findings suggest students made gains in knowledge. This class covering money management is of great benefit to the offender as they prepare to once again reenter today's society.

What does one teach in a financial literacy class targeted toward offenders? The nature of correctional education is very diverse. How can one meet the needs of an offender who has been incarcerated for 30 years? Thirty years ago the minimum wage was close to $2.65 per hour; a gallon of gas sold for around $.80 per gallon; you could purchase a new car for approximately $5,000. Visa cards were just beginning to emerge and grow in usage. Family dynamics were very different in the late 1970s with many husbands expected to be the breadwinners in their household.

Consider also the situation of an offender who has been locked away in prison since before he could even drive. What financial skills will this offender need in order to be successful upon release? He may have never held a job, written a check, or found housing for himself. It is likely that he will obtain employment at a salary close to minimum wage. Today, credit cards are easily obtained, and advertising sells the idea of a lifestyle that many will not be able to afford; especially those with lower incomes.

The typical correctional education classroom is by nature a rather formal, reserved environment. Working as a correctional educator makes one aware of some of the financial experiences encountered by offenders. Sharing of personal experiences in a classroom setting is not always a routine practice in correctional education. Studies have shown that there is value in incorporating these personal experiences into learning. In planning for a class in financial literacy offender experiences were incorporated into the curriculum, and student gains in knowledge were measured as well.

Literature Review

The current economic climate in the United States is growing ever more complex. Consumers have a growing number of financial decisions that they must make. Increased advertising and marketing can lead American citizens to make clouded decisions. National statistics show that money management is of immediate concern here in the U.S. The bankruptcy rates have doubled over the past ten years (Borja, 2004). 'An estimated 10 million American adults have no relationship with a mainstream financial services provider. One third of these adults are African American and 29% are Hispanic. One-fourth of all lowerincome families are un-banked" (Sarbanes, 2002, ¶ 4). Many offenders affirm these statistics as they generally have lower incomes, minority backgrounds and no previous banking experience.

One of the reasons for these economic trends might be attributed to a lack of understanding about Investing and financial planning. A small number of adults today are able to recall participation in a class covering financial topics. Without formal instruction, many are left to learn from their parents, or on their own by experience. This statement is consistent with this current research where approximately 76% of the students surveyed had learned about money management from family or through their own personal experiences. Congress passed the Excellence in Economic Education Act in 2001, which provided for increased funding of programs in financial literacy (Borja, 2004). In May 2002, President Bush created the Office of Financial Education. …