Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Working with Literacy-Level English Language Learners in Correctional Education Settings: Issues, Challenges and Best Practices

Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Working with Literacy-Level English Language Learners in Correctional Education Settings: Issues, Challenges and Best Practices

Article excerpt


The need for English as a Second Language (ESL1) programs is growing in many correctional populations. Little information for correctional educators regarding effective practices for non-native speakers of English is available. Although concerns that exist for the mainstream correctional education population are similar to those for ESL students, there are additional issues and challenges, most notably the lack of reading ability in either the native language or English among many incarcerated nonnative speakers. This paper will discuss pedagogical concerns surrounding the provision of educational services to second language learners enrolled in correctional education programs and provide suggestions for the implementation of an ESL component into existing programs with a focus on second language literacy development in addition, an example from practice will be provided to explicitly illustrate examples of the methods discussed.


Although the actual number of non-native speakers in need of ESL services in correctional facilities is unknown, current demographic trends indicate that the non-native speaking population who are incarcerated in the United States will not shrink; in fact, it will probably mirror general population trends2 and represent the fastest growing population in need of educational services in correctional settings. As of 2003, 90,700 inmates incarcerated in State and federal facilities were non-citizens which was an increase of almost 2000 persons from the previous year (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003). This statistic does not include county facilities. While status as a non-citizen does not assume classification as an ESL student, a logical assumption can be made that as the non-citizen population in correctional facilities grows, so will the ESL population.

In addition, second language learners who are pre-literate, non-literate and semi-literate comprise an ever growing segment of the adult education population (U.S. Department of Education, 2002b). This article discusses the context for correctional ESL programs, identifies the issues surrounding second language literacy development, and the components of an ESL program that can be integrated into an existing correctional education program for minors and adults.

English Language Learners and ESL Instruction in Correctional Settings

Traditional secondary and adult level ESL programs assume a degree of literacy in a student's native language. With the changing demographics in the United States and a profile for newly arrived students not matching previously defined categories, ESL programs must reanalyze traditional approaches to teaching methodology. Research from the United States Department of Education for the 2000-2001 school year Indicate that 55% of adults who participated in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes were enrolled in either beginning literacy or beginning level ESOL classes (United States Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, Division of Adult Education and Literacy, 2002b). According to the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS, 1994), 64% of second language learners who are foreign bom are at IALS level one and have difficulty with basic functional literacy tasks, for example reading labels on medicine bottles (Tuijnman, 2000).

The need for a pedagogical reanalysls is particularly necessary In correctional ESL. Statistics on literacy levels of incarcerated individuals in this country tell a bleak tale: The most recent data available from the National Adult Literacy Study (NALS) conducted 1n 1992(3) points out that literacy levels among the incarcerated were lower than the general population. According to NALS, 70% of inmates scored at the lowest two levels of literacy as defined by the 1992 NALS report4. Low literacy levels are one of the greatest common factors among Incarcerated Individuals (Kidder, 1990). While low literacy levels, lack of academic achievement, and interrupted formal education are not a cause of criminal activity, individuals with these characteristics are over represented in correctional facilities. …

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