Expectations for Opportunities Following Prison Education: A Discussion of Race and Gender

By Case, Patricia; Fasenfest, David | Journal of Correctional Education, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Expectations for Opportunities Following Prison Education: A Discussion of Race and Gender


Case, Patricia, Fasenfest, David, Journal of Correctional Education


Abstract

In 2000 the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State Universtiy received an award to evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of a mid-western state's prisoner education program in reducing the recidivism rates of respondents. As part of this evaluation, researchers held several focus groups with ex-inmates in order to determine how useful the education that they'd received in prison had been in finding and maintaining employment post-release. Ex-inmates were also queried as to whether they felt that the education that they'd received had been beneficial to them in their efforts to remain outside the prison system.

Not surprisingly, the groups were divided by race and gender. White males were more likely to perceive college courses in prison as being beneficial, reported a higher level of self esteem post education, more often reported that they had taken courses post release to continue their education and were not likely to perceive barriers to employment post release. Black males reported opposite experiences that are likely reinforced by institutionalized racism that additionally reduces opportunities. Black males reported more value in vocational training that provided a work skill, experienced lower levels of post education self esteem and reported more barriers to finding and maintaining employment.

As was expected, given the gender bias in the prison population, the number of females participating was too small to allow us to draw conclusions. However, women participants did raise interesting questions for further research. They reported that training was only available to them for traditionally female occupations, such as office skills and cosmetology. Self-esteem was the largest barrier to employ ment faced by women post release.

In recent years the prison system in the United States has begun to swing away from being strictly punitive and has started to focus attention on rehabilitation.

As part of the rehabilitation efforts, educating prisoners has become a widely accepted mechanism of addressing social and psychological needs of prisoners that may in fact significantly reduce the likelihood of recidivism (Anderson, 1995; Holloway and Moke, 1986).

The key to staying out of prison may be reintegration into the community. Studies have shown that successfully reintegrating into one's community is imperative if one is to avoid reincarceration. Successful reintegration is dependent upon finding employment and housing, reestablishing family networks and being accepted within the community as a productive member (Boutellier, JCJ, 1998; Fleisher, M.S. and Decker, S.H., 2001). Studies have shown however, that ex-inmates often are not able to able to make or reestablish the necessary social links to reintegrate (Petersilia, J., 2001) and that social stigma associated with their ex-inmate status creates barriers that are difficult, if not impossible to overcome. The supportive argument for maintaining post-secondary education in the prison system has been that it lessens barriers to reintegration by providing job skills, increased life skills and increased self-esteem.

Most published studies of prison education have utilized primarily quantitative approaches based on reentry rates and fail to capture the individual experiences of ex-inmates as they try to navigate their environments post release. Understanding the role of individual experience might provide insight into why some groups are at higher risk for re-entering the penal system regardless of educational opportunities provided during their incarceration. This paper summarizes the findings of four focus groups with ex-inmates that participated in prison post secondary education programs while incarcerated. Focus groups were designed to examine ex-inmates perspectives on whether or not post secondary education had helped with social reintegration by reducing barriers to employment. This study showed that having a college education or vocational training decreased recidivism more than high school/GED training (Fasenfest, D. …

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