Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Factors Affecting Student Success in Postsecondary Academic Correctional Education Programs

Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Factors Affecting Student Success in Postsecondary Academic Correctional Education Programs

Article excerpt


Research in correctional education has focused on examining outcomes for participants and identifying principles and guidelines that reflect best practice. Relatively few studies have focused on postsecondary education programs and fewer still have sought to relate program implementation to student outcomes to inform program design and improve program delivery. This study builds on research that identifies factors associated with student success in undergraduate education outside of prison settings. Hierarchical linear models are used to examine variation in student outcomes within and between prisons and to examine the influence of student characteristics, instructional program characteristics, and institution characteristics on student outcomes. Findings are based on student assessment and survey data collected over a 2-year period as part of a national study of the Correctional Education Association College of the Air (CEA/COA) program. Results identify characteristics of students, instructional programs, and institutions that influence student outcomes and factors that moderate these relationships.

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Prisons throughout the United States offer a range of vocational and academic education programming, the latter of which typically focuses on literacy, basic education, special education programming, and secondary education leading to either a high school diploma or certificate of equivalency. National surveys show that academic or vocational postsecondary programs are available at between 35% and 42% of correctional facilities; however, only about 1 1 % of the eligible inmate population participates (Erisman 8- Contardo, 2005; Stephan, 2008). Most prisoners who enroll in postsecondary education are concentrated in a small group of prison systems, which tend to have large inmate populations and feature strong state-level support for education programs (Erisman & Contardo, 2005).

A large body of research has documented the relationship between participation in prison educational programs and reduced rates of recidivism, post-release employment and education, and other public cost savings, such as reduced criminal justice costs and reduced reliance on welfare and other public programs (Batiuk, McKeever, a Wilcox, 2005; Bazos a Hausman, 2004; Coley a Barton, 2006; Erisman a Contardo, 2005; Fine et al, 2001; Caes, 2008; MTC Institute, 2003; Steurer, Smith, a Tracy, 2001). Programs that offer postsecondary correctional education have been shown to be especially promising for achieving these outcomes. A review of research conducted during the 1990s showed that most studies found reduced recidivism for prisoners who had participated in postsecondary education while incarcerated, with rates of recidivism being 46% lower, on average, than for those who had not taken college classes (Chappell, 2004). Indeed, a growing body of literature suggests that postsecondary program participation results in lowered recidivism rates and other post release outcomes, such as higher rates of employment and increased earnings (Adams et al., 1994; Batiuk et al., 2005; Contardo a Tolbert, 2008; Duguid, Hawkey, a Knights, 1998; Lichtenberger a Onyewu 2005; Steurer et al., 2001 ; Tewksbury a Vannostrand, 1996; Wilson, Callagher, a MacKenzie, 2000; Winterfield, Coggeshall, Burke-Storer, Correa, & Tidd, 2009).

In addition to post release outcomes associated with postsecondary education programs, other benefits have been identified, such as changes in inmate behavior and attitudes and improved conditions in correctional facilities, including reduced disciplinary infractions, improved relationships between inmates and correctional staff, development of positive peer role models, and enhanced inmate self-esteem (Fine et al, 2001; Taylor, 1992, Winterfield et al., 2009). These more proximal benefits may serve to mitigate negative impacts of incarceration given research suggesting that exposure to prison life and culture can lead inmates to adopt values and norms that reduce their ability to succeed in the community and labor market (Bloom, 2006; Contardo a Tolbert, 2008; Walters, 2003). …

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