1. According to a 2012 article in the journal Corrections Today on correctional education programs, most states have experienced an increase in incarceration rates and budgetary constraints over the past ten years, which has led many to examine best practices for reducing prison populations.
    1. In that same article, criminologist and former research director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons states that providing correctional education is one of the most productive and important reentry services that our prisons offer.
      1. His claim is supported by data collected directly from prisoners, 94 percent of whom identify education as a personal reentry need—ranking it above other needs such as financial assistance, housing, or employment.
      2. Despite the fact that this need is clearly documented, funding for adult and vocational education in correctional education has decreased.
    2. Many prisoners have levels of educational attainment that are far below those in the general population.
      1. According to statistics from 2010, as cited in the Corrections Today article, approximately 40 percent of state prison inmates did not complete high school, as compared to 19 percent of the general population.
      2. Additionally, while about 48 percent of the general public have taken college classes, only about 11 percent of state prisoners have.
      3. At the skill level, research from the United Kingdom, cited in the 2003 article from Studies in the Education of Adults titled “Learning behind Bars: Time to Liberate Prison Education,” rates of illiteracy are much higher among the prison population than the general population, and there is a link between poor reading skills and social exclusion that may lead people to antisocial behavior.
    3. Prisoner education is also needed to break a cycle of negativity and stigma that many prisoners have grown accustomed to.
      1. The article from Studies in the Education of Adults that I just cited states that prisoners are often treated as objects or subjected to objectifying labels like “addict, sexual offender, anddeviant.”
      2. While these labels may be accurate in many cases, they do not do much to move the prisoner toward rehabilitation.
      3. The label student, however, has the potential to do so because it has positive associations and can empower the prisoner to make better choices to enhance his or her confidence and self-worth.

Transition: Now that I’ve established the need for prisoner education, let’s examine how we can meet that need.

  1. In order to meet the need for prisoner education that I have just explained, it is important to have a curriculum that is varied and tailored to various prisoner populations and needs.
    1. The article from Corrections Today notes that education is offered to varying degrees in most US prisons, but its presence is often debated and comes under increased scrutiny during times of budgetary stress.
      1. Some states have implemented programs that require inmates to attend school for a certain amount of time if they do not meet minimum standards for certain skills such as reading or math.
      2. While these are useful programs, prisoner education shouldn’t be limited to or focused on those with the least amount of skills.
      3. The article notes that even prisoners who have attended or even graduated from college may benefit from education, as they can pursue specialized courses or certifications.
    2. Based on my research, I would propose that the prison curriculum have four tiers: one that addresses basic skills that prisoners may lack, one that prepares prisoners for a GED, one that prepares prisoners for college-level work, and one that focuses on life and social skills.
      1. The first tier of the education program should focus on remediation and basic skills, which is the most common form of prisoner education as noted by Foley and Gao in their 2004 article from the Journal of Correctional Education that studied educational practices at several institutions.
        1. These courses will teach prisoners basic reading, writing, and math skills that may be lacking.
        2. Since there is a stigma associated with a lack of these basic skills, early instruction should be one-one-one or in small groups.
      2. The second tier should prepare prisoners who have not completed the equivalent of high school to progress on to a curriculum modeled after that of most high schools, which will prepare them for a GED.
      3. The third tier should include a curriculum based on the general education learning goals found at most colleges and universities and/or vocational training.
        1. Basic general education goals include speaking, writing, listening, reading, and math.
        2. Once these general education requirements have been met, prisoners should be able to pursue specialized vocational training or upper-level college courses in a major of study, which may need to be taken online through distance learning, since instructors may not be available to come to the actual prisons to teach.
      4. The fourth tier includes training in social and life skills that most people learn through family and peer connections, which many prisoners may not have had.
        1. Some population-specific areas of study that wouldn’t be covered in a typical classroom include drug treatment and anger management.
        2. Life skills such as budgeting, money management, and healthy living can increase confidence.
        3. Classes that focus on social skills, parenting, or relational communication can also improve communication skills and relational satisfaction; for example, workshops teaching parenting skills have been piloted to give fathers the skills needed to more effectively communicate with their children, which can increase feelings of self-worth.
    3. According to a 2007 article by Behan in the Journal of Correctional Education, prisons should also have extracurricular programs that enhance the educational experience.
      1. Under the supervision of faculty and/or staff, prisoners could be given the task of organizing an outside speaker to come to the prison or put together a workshop.
      2. Students could also organize a debate against students on the outside, which could allow the prisoners to interact (face-to-face or virtually) with other students and allow them to be recognized for their academic abilities.
      3. Even within the prison, debates, trivia contests, paper contests, or speech contests could be organized between prisoners or between prisoners and prison staff as a means of healthy competition.
      4. Finally, prisoners who are successful students should be recognized and put into peer-mentoring roles, because, as Behan states in the article, “a prisoner who…has had an inspirational learning experience acts as a more positive advocate for the school than any [other method].”

Transition: The model for prisoner education that I have just outlined will have many benefits.

  1. Educating prisoners can benefit inmates, those who work in prisons, and society at large.
    1. The article I just cited from the Journal of Correctional Education states that the self-reflection and critical thinking that are fostered in an educational setting can help prisoners reflect on how their actions affected them, their victims, and/or their communities, which may increase self-awareness and help them better reconnect with a civil society and reestablish stronger community bonds.
    2. The Corrections Today article I cited earlier notes that a federally funded three-state survey provided the strongest evidence to date that prisoner education reduces the recidivism rate and increases public safety.
      1. The Corrections Today article also notes that prisoners who completed a GED reoffended at a rate 20 percent lower than the general prison population, and those that completed a college degree reoffended at a rate 44 percent lower than the general prison population.
      2. So why does prisoner education help reduce recidivism rates?
        1. Simply put, according to the article in the Studies in the Education of Adults I cited earlier, the skills gained through good prison education programs make released prisoners more desirable employees, which increases their wages and helps remove them from a negative cycles of stigma and poverty that led many of them to crime in the first place.
        2. Further, the ability to maintain consistent employment has been shown to reduce the rate of reoffending.
    3. Education doesn’t just improve the lives of the prisoners; it also positively affects the people who work in prisons.
      1. An entry on by Kinney about the benefits of prisoners getting GEDs notes that a successful educational program in a prison can create a more humane environment that will positively affect the officers and staff as well.
      2. Such programs also allow prisoners to do more productive things with their time, which lessens violent and destructive behavior and makes prison workers’ jobs safer.
    4. Prisoner education can also save cash-strapped states money.
      1. Giving prisoners time-off-sentence credits for educational attainment can help reduce the prison population, as eligible inmates are released earlier because of their educational successes.
      2. As noted by the Corrections Today article, during the 2008–9 school year the credits earned by prisoners in the Indiana system led to more than $68 million dollars in avoided costs.

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