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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.
In In March 2013, The U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice announced the award of 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) is a one-time discretionary grant funding 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 aims 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 is the Reentry Education Model. Grant recipients listed below are implementing the Reentry Education Model, including evidence-based approaches to support individuals leaving prison to successfully transition back into the community through schooling and career advancement.
Western Technical College
La Crosse, Wisconsin
Funding Amount: $291,864.
Contact: Brian (Rande) Daykin,
Funding Amount: $272,032.
Contact: Sandra Strunk,
Barton County Community College
Great Bend, Kansas
Funding Amount: $360,140
Contact: Cathie Oshiro,
Among the suggested improvements for correctional education contained in the Education Department’s Reentry Education Model are:
- establishing an integrated reentry program that offers and incorporates education services, workforce training, and job search support during intake and prerelease processes and links education to employment services;
- targeting job support to labor market demands that do not have criminal history restrictions;
- using technology to increase program access and data to measure performance and outcomes, and
- conducting thorough program evaluations to further share lessons learned and best practices.
- 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: John Linton
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
- 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)
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
- 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.