Career and Technical Education in United States Prisons: What Have We Learned?

By Ward, Shakoor A. | Journal of Correctional Education, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Career and Technical Education in United States Prisons: What Have We Learned?


Ward, Shakoor A., Journal of Correctional Education


This essay examines the effects of Career and Technical Education (CTE) in US. prisons by looking at research that has conflicting results and inferences. Although the opposing positions are mainly represented by two studies, this essay includes literature review of historical studies representing opposing views regarding the effects of CTE in US. prisons. Historical studies are used to present a timeline and demonstrate CTE's reliability and validity as one of the most successful methods of prison rehabilitation. The body of this essay will summarize the opposing positions and the bulk of this discussion is divided into four main themes: a brief history of career and technical education (aka, vocational education) in prisons, description of studies, critiques, and practical applications for Workforce Education and Development (WF ED) professionals. The essay will conclude with a summary that reviews the main literature and related writings, as well as make recommendations for future research.

Introduction

This essay examines the effects of Career and Technical Education (CTE) in OS. prisons by looking at research that has conflicting results and inferences. Although the opposing positions are mainly represented by two studies, this essay includes literature review of historical studies representing opposing views regarding the effects of CTE in US. prisons. Historical studies are used to present a timeline and demonstrate CTEs reliability and validity as one of the most successful methods of prison rehabilitation. The term CTE will be used instead of "vocational education" although the latter is primarily used in the referenced literature. I am taking liberties with using the temi CTE, recognizing that although the term did not exist or was not common usage during the period the studies were published; it is fundamentally the same discipline as vocational education.

The two main publications of interest are: "What Works? Questions and Answers about Prison Reform" (Martinson, 1974) and the "Prison Education Research Project Final Report" (Criminal Justice Center [GC], 1994). These studies were chosen because of the different conclusions regarding the effects of CTE in US. prisons. As previously stated, although these two published reports are the featured sources of comparison, there positions are supported by other studies as well. In most cases, the other studies cited in this essay are also cited in both reports.

Martinson's report was a catalyst for the discussion on prison reform and stirred up much debate at the time it was published. In spite of it being published 33 years ago, it is still regarded as one of the most referenced and relevant published criticisms of prison education. Outside of the realm of education, Martinson's work was used by prison program critics who argued that rehabilitation should not be a primary justification for incarceration.

In Texas, the Comptroller's Office issued a report on the performance of the Windham School System (WSS) in December 1992. The WSS provides education programs and prison instruction. One recommendation from the report was that WSS take a closer look at the effect of prison education programs on recidivism. WSS asked for the Criminal Justice Center at Sam Houston State University to perform an independent evaluation of WSS programs. The "Prison Education Research Project Final Report" details the findings of the independent evaluation. The report examined the impact of inmate participation in Windham academic and vocational programming on return to prison and disciplinary infractions while incarcerated (OC, 1994).

The body of this essay will summarize the opposing positions and the bulk of this discussion is divided into four main themes: a brief history of career and technical education (aka, vocational education) in prisons, description of studies, critiques, and practical applications for Workforce Education and Development (WF ED) professionals. …

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