Can a Workplace Credentialing Program Improve Inmate Literacy?

By Brown, Martha A.; Rios, Steve J. | Journal of Correctional Education, May 2014 | Go to article overview

Can a Workplace Credentialing Program Improve Inmate Literacy?


Brown, Martha A., Rios, Steve J., Journal of Correctional Education


Abstract

Correctional educators, recognizing that the majority of inmates lack the math, reading, and language skills required to be successful in today's workplace, strive to equip offenders with the skills and abilities needed to find and maintain work on their release. However, most adult literacy programs in prisons fail to raise the grade-level equivalency scores of low-performing students high enough to qualify inmates for General Education Development preparation courses, and many do not equip inmates with the basic computer skills needed to apply for most jobs. This pre-/posttest, single-group study on Florida Ready to Work (FLRTW), a computer-based workplace credentialing program, is the first of its kind in a correctional environment. The purpose of this study is to determine the impact of FLRTW on learning gains in reading, language, and math as measured by the Test of Adult Basic Education. Fifty-three male inmates residing in a private, therapeutic work-release center who were required to complete FLRTW voluntarily agreed to participate in this study. Findings indicate much larger than average grade-level increases ranging from 3.1 to 3.5, with no moderating impact by the independent variables of race, age, sentence length, and prior incarcerations. The study fills a knowledge gap related to the effectiveness of workplace credentialing programs in correctional institutions, and provides recommendations related to policy, practice, and research in this challenging environment.

This article begins with a discussion of the state of correctional education in the United States, its relationship to recidivism rates, and the role that computer-assisted instruction plays in correctional education. After a review of the literature, we introduce workplace credentialing as it relates to this study. Finally, we describe the research setting, study design, and results. We include in our discussion of the findings the various challenges we encountered during this study, and conclude with recommendations for future research.

Correctional Education and Recidivism

The majority of the 1.6 million prisoners in the United States are poor, undereducated African American males who frequently lack the math, literacy, and problem-solving skills needed to succeed in a highly competitive and technical labor market (Schmitt, Warner, & Gupta, 2010). Correctional education encompasses programs such as General Education Development (GED) preparation, literacy, Adult Basic Education (ABE), vocational training, inmate tutoring, and in some instances, job readiness (Crayton a Neusteter, 2008; Foley a Gao, 2004). Without widespread correctional education programs that include effective literacy classes, work readiness, vocational training, and GED preparation, 30% to 60% of all inmates released from US. prisons leave with little more education than they entered. This is one reason why between 30% and 60% of all released offenders recidivate and are subsequently reincarcerated (Florida Department of Corrections [FLDOC], 2010; Petersillia, 2003; Travis, 2005). Despite findings that offenders who receive some form of correctional education recidivate less than do offenders who receive no education while incarcerated (Gordon a Weldon, 2003; Steuer, Smith, a Tracy, 2001 ; Wade, 2007), nationawide, correctional education programs continue to be a low priority and are frequently underfunded, understaffed, and therefore unable to serve all inmates who need education and vocational training (Crayton a Neusteter, 2008).

According to the FLDOC's 2009 Annual Report, the median grade-level equivalency (GLE) of Florida's inmates in 2008 was only 6.9, and 75.5% of Florida's 100,894 inmates read at or below the ninth-grade level. Recidivism rates of Florida inmates decreased 7.9% for those who obtained a GED, by 14% for those who received vocational training, and by 18.3% for those who received both. Additionally, for every grade level an inmate gained as a result of participating in a correctional education program, he or she was 3% to 4% less likely to return to prison (FLDOC, 2010); that said, only 2,262, or 0. …

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