Academic journal article Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning

Inmate Perceptions of Financial Education Needs: Suggestions for Financial Educators

Academic journal article Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning

Inmate Perceptions of Financial Education Needs: Suggestions for Financial Educators

Article excerpt

Recently, national attention has turned to the need for increased financial education, particularly for low-income populations. Incarcerated individuals represent a growing low-income group with unique needs that could likely benefit from financial education. However, few studies have examined the specific financial education needs of inmates, particularly from their own perspectives. Through qualitative interviews with 12 men incarcerated in a Midwestern county jail and using grounded theory methodology for data analysis, this study identifies their self-perceived financial education needs as well as perceived barriers to receiving financial education while incarcerated. Implications for financial educators are also discussed.

Key Words: delivery barriers, financial education, incarceration, inmates, prisoners, qualitative methods


In the wake of the economic crisis of the late 2000s, renewed national attention has turned to the topic of financial education. Former President Bush created the first President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy in January 2008 (The White House, 2008) following the collapse of the subprime lending market. President Obama similarly followed suit by creating the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability in January 2010. This new emphasis on financial capability, which is defined as "the capacity, based on knowledge, skills, and access, to manage financial resources effectively" (The White House, 2010, Section 1), is particularly salient for low-income individuals who may lack both knowledge of and access to mainstream financial institutions (Anderson, Zhan, & Scott, 2004; Johnson & Sherraden, 2007; Lim, Livermore, & Davis, 2011).

Incarcerated individuals represent a distinct low-income group for whom financial capability appears to be important because the vast majority will eventually be released and seek to participate in the formal economy (Henderson, 2005; Petersilia, 2003). However, relatively little research has addressed the perceived financial education needs of the incarcerated. Although some life skills programs already teach financial knowledge and skills, only one published study in the last 20 years has examined financial education for an incarcerated population. Koenig (2007) administered a financial knowledge assessment to 17 incarcerated men in an attempt to tailor a financial literacy curriculum to their specific backgrounds and needs. In light of the growing number of financial curricula targeted to incarcerated populations (e.g., Federal Bureau of Prisons personal finance curriculum), further research into offenders' perceptions of their financial education deficits is necessary to ensure that financial education is tailored to their specific needs and interests.

Literature Review

Financial Education and the Incarcerated

In the mid-1970s, the topic of financial education emerged in the correctional education literature, generally under the label of consumer education. From programs for juvenile offenders (Spencer & Siler, 1974) to independent living programs for incarcerated women (Thomas, 1981), correctional educators began to initiate consumer education for offenders in order to prepare them for release back into the community. In spite of these promising efforts, occupational and vocational training dominated correctional programming, leading one scholar to decry the "possibly fa- tal" assumption that if prisoners are given a wage earning skill they will be able to return to society as rehabilitated productive members ready to assume a role of responsible citizen. This attitude ignores, possibly overlooks, the importance of the ability and skill of handling and managing the money that is earned (Brooks, 1980, p. 4).

Brooks (1980) argued that "consumer education [was] the other side of the coin" (p. 4). Despite this call, the topic of financial education was largely abandoned during the 1980s and 1990s. …

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