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In 1798, seven years after the first American prison opened its doors, "schooling" became a function of the American prison. To the extent that prisons are intended as venues for rehabilitation, education has an important role in prison operations. Today, over 90% of the federal and state prisons and over 80% of private prisons offer some form of educational program to inmates. An Office of Correctional Education (OCE) was created in 1991 by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act. The function currently resides in Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) where it is managed through the Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL).
Rapid increases in the U.S. prisoner population over recent decades have increased the need for educational services in correctional settings. Research shows that incarcerated populations are over-represented in segments of the general population that lack basic literacy skills. The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that the prison population, both male and female, had lower literacy rates than individuals who were not incarcerated. The study also found that inmates who participated in either vocational education or information technology programs while incarcerated had higher literacy rates than those prisoners who did not. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that correctional education can assist incarcerated persons with gaining the necessary life-skills they will need in their post-release lives.
The OCE allocates funds to states through the Workplace and Community Transition Training for Incarcerated Individuals grant program. Grants are awarded annually to states that offer educational programs to inmates. Today, 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are grant recipients.
- January: Governor designates a State Correctional Education agency (SCEA)
- February: Grant applications made available to the SCEA
- March: Deadline for SCEA to submit grant applications and state plans to Office of Correctional Education (OCE).
- April: Announcement of grant awards
- September: Grants funds are made available to SCEA to implement state plan
- 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
- Correctional Education Association (CEA)
- Correctional Education Association (CEA)
- Correctional Education Data Network
- Community Partnerships for Adult Learning
- The National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center (NDTAC)
- The National Center on Education, Disability, and Juvenile Justice (EDJJ)
- The National Institute for Literacy: Literacy, Information, and Communication System (NIFL: LINCS)
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
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
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
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: Where can I get information about providing financial support for the education of released prisoners?