Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Correctional Education: Characteristics of Academic Programs Serving Incarcerated Adults

Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Correctional Education: Characteristics of Academic Programs Serving Incarcerated Adults

Article excerpt


Correctional education programs for incarcerated adults have been an object of much discussion. While such programs appear to be readily available to incarcerated individuals, little information is known about the instructional characteristics of such programs. The purpose of this survey was to describe the characteristics of instructional programs serving incarcerated adults with and without disabilities. The results indicated that standardized assessment tools were the predominant tools used to place students into academic programs and to monitor students' academic progress. General Education Development certificate programs, Adult Basic Education, and vocational education programs were the major programs available to inmates. Individualized instruction and grouping strategies were utilized to deliver instruction to students with and without disabilities. Regular educators, education facility administrators, and special educators were the most frequently reported members of special education multi-disciplinary and individual education program planning teams. Implications for research and practice are discussed.

The role of education in the rehabilitation of incarcerated adults has been a much debated topic. A frequently discussed issue is the impact of education on the recidivism rate of previously incarcerated individuals. Amid such debate, a recent meta-analysis of 33 experimental and quasi-experimental studies indicated that Adult Basic Education (ABE), General Education Development certificates (CED), and post-secondary education programs were more effective in reducing recidivism than correctional work (Wilson, Gallagher, a MacKenzie, 2000). Furthermore, participation in education programs appears to influence the psychological well-being of inmates. Prisoners enrolled in education programs have reported serving as role-models for other inmates, causing others to evaluate their goals and motivation for the future. These same inmates reported improvement in their own personal behavior, citing a reduced number of infractions against prison rules (Gendron & Cavan, 1990).

The delivery of quality correctional education programs is challenged by the diversity of educational levels among the prison population. A majority of individuals committed to correctional facilities often have limited educational backgrounds. Data from a 1997 census of the educational levels of inmates in state prisons reported 14.2% had completed either the eighth grade or a portion of their elementary school education. An additional 28.9% of the inmates had completed a portion of a high school program. The remainder of the population had a high school diploma or a GED certificate (45.6%), college degree (2.7%) or had completed college coursework (10.7%) (Maguire & Pastore, 2001).

Generally, correctional education programs for adults which focus on the development of basic academic skills and earning a high school diploma or a GED appear to be widely available. A national survey of adult correctional education facilities indicated that 40 of the 41 responding states offered ABE and GED instruction, with average availability rate within state's institutions of 91% and 92%, respectively. Nearly one-half of the respondent states indicated availability of high school coursework (n = 26), with instruction being available, on the average, in 62% of the states' institutions (Kirshstein & Best, 1996). Other research findings also supported the widespread availability of general education programming for male and female inmates (Lahm, 2000).

Vocational education appears to be available in all states with an average availability rate of 69% of states' institutions. Post-secondary education (n = 38) and life and social skills training (n =39) were reported less often as available to inmates. Life and social skills training were identified as available in 79% of the states' institutions, with post-secondary education offered in 60% of the states' institutions (Kirshstein & Best, 1996). …

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