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Correctional education is a fundamental component of rehabilitative programming offered in juvenile justice confinement facilities, most American prisons, and many jails and detention centers. Correctional populations are over-represented with individuals having below average levels of educational attainment. Education "behind bars" presents an opportunity for the incarcerated to prepare for success upon release. A wide variety of administering entities operate correctional institutions in the United States, and a wide variety of organizations are the providers of onsite prison education programs. Various federal education programs have supported education in State and local prisons; and in 1991, an Office of Correctional Education (OCE) was created by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act, to coordinate and improve these efforts to support educational opportunities in correctional settings. The OCE function currently resides in the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL). While OCE has a unique coordinating role for correctional education, other administrative units within the Department of Education support and oversee specific programs that are based in correctional facilities.
Improved Reentry Education
The Improved Reentry Education (IRE) program builds upon the success and lessons learned from OCTAE’s previous investment, Promoting Reentry Success through Continuity of Educational Opportunities (PRSCEO) program (see below). The purpose of the IRE program is to support demonstration projects in prisoner reentry education that develop evidence of reentry education’s effectiveness. IRE seeks to demonstrate that high-quality, appropriately designed, integrated, and well-implemented educational and related services—provided in institutional and community settings—are critical in supporting educational attainment and reentry success for previously incarcerated individuals. In September 2015, the Department awarded IRE grants to nine sites:
- Washburn University of Topeka (KS)
- Barton County Community College (KS)
- Essex County College (NJ)
- Miami-Dade County(FL)
- Lorain County Community College (OH)
- Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 (PA)
- Western Technical College (WI)
- Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA)
- United Teen Equality Center, Inc. (MA)
The grants, see the abstracts here, represent a diverse group of applicants who proposed programs ranging from those designed to serve all female populations to those targeting young men of color. Program structures vary from boot camp style programming, to common state wide wrap around services. The Office of Correctional Education will assist the grantees throughout the performance period; and, they will be provided technical assistance through a contract with Jobs for the Future (JFF). JFF will work to support the success of the IRE grantees by: supporting reentry education programs; providing direct technical assistance to grantees and other providers; assisting Department staff in monitoring IRE projects and assisting grantees to develop evaluation plans including unique processes for data collection and analysis; facilitating conferences; and, by establishing online communities of practice.
Reentry Success through Continuity of Educational Opportunities
In March 2013, The U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice awarded three grants totaling $924,036 to adult education providers in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Kansas for innovative correctional education programs aimed at helping America’s inmate population make a smooth re-entry to society through education and workforce training. Projects on Promoting Reentry Success through Continuity of Educational Opportunities (PRSCEO) was a one-time discretionary grant opportunity funded by the Second Chance Act, which is administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component within the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice. PRESCO aimed to address the chronic issue of underemployment for ex-offenders and provide a more constructive use of time for those under community supervision; as well as create an education continuum for bridging the gap between prison and community-based education and training programs. At the heart of the (PRESCO) projects was the Reentry Education Model.
The implementation experiences of the three sites and key lessons learned for linking facility- and community-based education programs are documented in a report, Reentry Education Model Implementation Study: Promoting Reentry Success Through Continuity of Educational Opportunities. The report finds that strong partnerships among education providers and correctional facilities; a focus on transitions into and out of the correctional facility; and educational programs leading to career pathways are among the most important factors in enabling those previously incarcerated to continue their education and prepare for living-wage jobs.
- Federal Bureau of Prisons
- NDTAC National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Children and Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At Risk
U.S. Department of Education
Office of Correctional Education
Attn: Christopher Coro
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington D.C. 20202
The following links are to Web sites, papers and other resources that provide information about Correctional Education. Disclaimer
- Guidance on Correctional Education in Juvenile Justice Facilities from the U.S. Department of Education
- Federal Interagency Reentry Council
- Correctional Education Association (CEA)
- LINCS, the Literacy Information and Communication System
- Correctional Education Data Network
- Community Partnerships for Adult Learning
- The National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center (NDTAC) for the Education of Children who are Neglected, Delinquent or at Risk
- The National Center on Education, Disability, and Juvenile Justice (EDJJ)
- The National Reentry Resource Center
Research on correctional education ensures that current practices are effective and new discoveries and technologies are implemented in correctional education. The following are papers that are helpful in understanding the need for correctional education. Disclaimer
- Educational Technology in Corrections Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2015
- How Effective is Correctional Education and Where Do We Go From Here, The Rand Corporation, 2014. The document represents the final report of the federally funded RAND Study of Correctional Education.
- Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education, A Meta-Analysis of Programs that Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults, The Rand Corporation, 2013
- A Reentry Education Model Supporting Education and Career Advancement for Low-Skill Individuals in Corrections PDF (667KB)
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2012
This publication is a resource for practitioners and policy makers who wish to use education as a tool to support reentry success.
- Community-based Correctional Education PDF (956KB)
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2011
- Prison and Community College Partnerships PDF (925KB)
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2009.
- Take Charge of Your Future, Get the Education and Training You Need PDF (4.8MB)
The U.S. Department of Education, 2012 (Available in printed form at no cost from EDPubs, dial 1-8004ED-PUBS)
- Locked Up and Locked Out: An Educational Perspective on the U.S. Prison Population PDF (638KB)
Coley, R.J., and P.E. Barton. Policy Information Center Reports.
- Learning to Reduce Recidivism: A 50-State Analysis of Postsecondary Correctional Education Policy PDF (499KB)
Erisman, Wendy, and Jeanne Bayer Contrado. Institute for Higher Education Policy: Publications.
- Literacy Behind Bars PDF (3.1MB)
Greenberg, Elizabeth, Eric Dunleavy, and Kutner Mark. ERIC: Education Resources Information Center.
- Utilizing Post-Release Outcome Information PDF (202KB)
Lichtenberger, Eric, and Todd Ogle. Correctional Education Association.
- Reentry Roundtable on Education, Urban Institute.
- Three State Recidivism Study PDF (554KB)
Steurer, Stephen J., Linda Smith, and Alice Tracy. Correctional Education Association. 22 Dec. 2008.
- Education and Correctional Populations PDF (499KB)
Wolf Harlow, Ph.D, Caroline. Bureau of Justice Statistics: Special Report. 22 Dec. 2008.
Q: Where can I get more information on education for prisoners after they are released?
A: "Take Charge of Your Future, Get the Education and Training You Need" is a useful guide for planning for post release educational program participation, and it is also a helpful reference for members of the correctional population on community status (on parole or probation or residing in a halfway house or other community corrections facility). PDF (4.8MB)
Q: Are correspondence courses allowed for incarcerated individuals?
A: Policies and systems regarding correspondence courses for incarcerated adults vary by state. To find out if correspondence courses are permitted in your state, contact your SCEA using the contact information posted on your state's Web site above. Some correspondence courses advertised for prisoners are scams and are very expensive. Make sure any courses that are used are provided by an accredited and reliable source.
Q: Where can I get more information on correctional education in federal prisons?
A: More information is available from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Prisons.
Q: Can the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated qualify for federal student financial aid?
A: Please consult the "Reentry Mythbuster" on federal student financial aid. This is one among several mythbusters on reentry topics.