Assessing Correctional Education Programs: The Students' Perspective

By Tewksbury, Richard; Stengel, Kenneth M. | Journal of Correctional Education, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Assessing Correctional Education Programs: The Students' Perspective


Tewksbury, Richard, Stengel, Kenneth M., Journal of Correctional Education


Abstract

The purpose of this study is to understand the importance of programs, tools and resources in correctional education programs, as perceived by students. Data for this study was gathered from a survey of all students (n=281) enrolled in educational programs at the Kentucky State Reformatory during a one month period of 2004. This includes all students currently enrolled in any of the 14 academic and vocational educational programs. Data and findings focus on primary reasons for participation in correctional education programs, the feelings of self worth these programs instill, disparities between academic and vocational participants in what is viewed as important to their education, and identification of perceived value for a range of resources.

When studying correctional education, it is important to assess the broad range of educational programs that are included in correctional settings. Most previous research has focused on only one form of educational program (literacy, adult basic education, GED courses, vocational training or postsecondary). However, when looking at only one form of educational programming there is a danger of inappropriately generalizing results to 'all education" or having policies and programmatic decisions based on faulty interpretations of research data. Also, the educational level of those entering correctional institutions is important in determining which program ensures a better chance for successful completion. According to Muth (2004), multiple approaches to literacy assessment allows for a more encompassing insight in the literacy needs of the prisoner. Therefore, in order to best understand the impacts, experiences and most appropriate structures for successful correctional education programs it is important to look across the types of programming options from which both inmate-students and correctional administrators have to choose.

Due in large part to a high level of interest in correctional educational programs as a means to reduce recidivism, serious attention must be given to understand which programs best address the needs of prisoners. A 1995 survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of all state and federal adult correctional facilities showed that 94 percent had work programs and 84 percent had at least some form of educational programs (Wilson, Callagher, Coggeshall and MacKenzie, 1999). The most frequently available were General Education Development certificate programs, Adult Basic Education, and vocational education programs. Of these programs, the most prevalent were those that focused on the development of basic academic skills and the obtainment of a high school diploma or its equivalency (Foley and Gao 2004). In 1995 over 75 percent of the facilities surveyed offered basic adult education and GED programs and one-third provided access to college course work (Wilson, et al 1999). However, two-thirds of the inmates at these facilities took part in work programs and less than 25 percent were enrolled in an educational program (Wilson, et al 1999). More recently, Foley and Gao (2004) reported that 40 of 41 responding states offered ABE and GED instruction with an average availability rate within each state's correctional institutions of 91 and 92 percent respectively. The responses indicated that vocational programs were available in all states and available in 69 percent of state institutions. Less frequently available programs were post-secondary education (60%) and life/social skills training (79%) (Foley and Gao 2004).

In review of the literature, an abundance of support for correctional education programs presents itself. Wilson et al (1999) cite Gendron and Cavan (1990) as saying that participation in educational programs yields a positive influence on the psychological well being of inmates, reduces rule infractions, and enrolled inmates serve as role models to other inmates. These positive influences also facilitate a culture of respect that allow prisoners to develop personal motivations for enrichment (Muth 2004).

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