The basic data principle what goes into a system eventually comes out applies as much to correctional education as it does to any other type of data gathering effort. The best computers in the world and the most creative and resourceful program administrators and evaluators cannot compensate for data that either are not collected or are of poor quality. Data comprise the core of any correctional education data system. Thus, it is critical that adequate resources be devoted to data collection.
To many, the collection of correctional education data might initially seem daunting. Inmates transfer between facilities and programs making it difficult to track participants and their educational progress. Even the simplest and best designed data collection efforts take time, time that seems even more valuable when resources are tight. Computerized data collection, certainly the most efficient way to gather information on a routine basis, requires equipment and expertise.
Data collection does not have to be an overwhelming enterprise, however. A few pertinent data elements can go a long way toward providing program administrators with useful information. The up-front effort of establishing a system entails some time, energy, expertise, and money. Once established, the availability of information and the subsequent increase in efficiency far outweigh the effort and cost of establishing a system.
This section of the handbook presents the types of data elements that states and facilities should consider collecting about correctional education programs and participants. These data elements encompass all aspects of inmates' correctional histories, from intake to post-release, as well as selected social and demographic characteristics. As such, the data system that would result from collecting the suggested information goes beyond the needs of documenting correctional education program activity.
The system envisioned incorporates data elements that can be used for a variety of different purposes including:
the monitoring of inmates' attendance and progress in different programs;
the preparation of reports required by facilities and states; and
the measurement of program effectiveness.
Correctional education data are gathered during three distinct phases of an inmates' correctional history: intake, incarceration itself, and post- release.
During the intake process, information is collected that forms the foundation of any correctional education data system. Baseline data for all inmates, regardless of whether they participate in correctional education programs or not, are typically collected or assembled during an intake process. At this time, the inmate's criminal history is reviewed as well as his or her medical and educational background. In addition, inmates are usually given a battery of tests or interviews that are designed to assess their education and rehabilitative needs and to aid in the prescribing of rehabilitative programming. These data elements are among the easiest to gather yet they are central to ongoing program management and evaluation.
Social and Demographic Characteristics. A considerable amount of background information is gathered at intake. These background elements include the inmate's age, gender, race, and highest level of education completed. An inmate identification number is also assigned during intake.
Criminal History. The inmate's criminal history includes current and past arrests and convictions and is used to place inmates in appropriate programs. Furthermore, research has repeatedly demonstrated that prior criminal history is one of the strongest predictors of recidivism. Evaluators, therefore, will want to know as much as possible about the criminal records of program participants.
Medical History. Data should also be included on the inmate's medical history. From an evaluation perspective, information about substance abuse is important because it predicts recidivism. As programs attempt to determine whether their efforts reduce the likelihood of inmates returning to jail or prison, information on substance abuse is needed so that programs can measure the unique effect of correctional education programs upon recidivism rates after controlling for the effects of substance abuse. Mental health information also provides pertinent data that could effect educational placements and performance.
Testing. The testing that takes place at intake provides critical information for the placement of inmates in appropriate programs and serves as a baseline for measuring progress in programs. Many states have mandatory education requirements for inmates who fall below certain test scores or who did not attain specified levels of education.
Placement. Finally, data about the inmates' placements in programs should be entered into a correctional education data base at the time of intake. Such data elements provide facilities with information on what types of programs are needed and where program dollars should be invested. If, for example, GED preparation courses are recommended for more inmates than there are available slots, programs may want to consider expanding that effort and possibly reducing resources to other programs for which there is less demand.
Exhibit 3 presents different types of intake information that might be included in a correctional education data system.
Intake Data Elements
|Social and Demographic Inmate
Program Participation. These data can be used to justify the investment made in correctional education by clearly documenting the number of inmates who receive services. In addition to describing the number of participants, these data can describe participation across program types, highlight the number of program completions, and display other indicators of progress. These data can also be used for payroll purposes and parole hearings.
Testing. The testing that takes place during an inmate's enrollment in correctional education is extremely important because results can be compared with intake test results. Gains can be displayed in reports, providing evidence of academic progress.
Other Program Participation. Additional information describing participation in other rehabilitative programs (substance abuse treatment, life skills, work assignments) can be used by programs to document an inmate's overall progress. More important, information regarding participation in other programs can be used in post-release evaluation studies that measure the influence of rehabilitative programming on recidivism. Recidivism studies will be discussed in greater detail in Section 5.
Behavioral Information. Data documenting the occurrence of prison infractions should be collected and reported. Some programs have demonstrated that participation in correctional education programs contributes to a safer institutional environment.
The types of incarceration data elements that might be routinely collected and entered into a correctional data system are provided in Exhibit 4.
Incarceration Data Elements
|Other Program Participation
Name of Program
Visits to Infirmary: DateCell Placement/Location
Program Waiting List
Post-release data elements are certainly more difficult to gather than either intake or incarceration elements. Since the individual is no longer in jail or prison, information on the inmate after release depends upon either the cooperation of parole or probation officers who are in touch with the individual, the use of staff to track former inmates' whereabouts and collect information from them, or the merger of other data systems with a facility's own correctional database.
Risk Factor Score. Different scales have been developed that combine various data elements to produce summary scores that represent the "risk" of committing another crime. Risk factor scales are typically weighted toward prior criminal behaviors but personal characteristics, such as age, are often included as part of the scale. Programs should consider reviewing various risk factor scales and including risk factor scores in their systems.
Release History. These data elements are very important to post-release evaluation studies. The release date provides the starting point for tracking the inmates' post-release behavior. Release outcomes (rearrest, reconviction, parole violation) are of paramount interest to corrections officials and program funders.
Release Employment. Post-release employment status and the level of earnings are also important to post-release evaluation studies. Section 5 will discuss post-release employment and earnings as an alternative measure to recidivism.
Additional Rehabilitation. Section 5 also discusses the need to account for other contributing factors when measuring recidivism. In addition, program officials should document the percentage of inmates who continue to pursue education after leaving correctional education programs.
Exhibit 5 presents the types of post-release data elements that programs might include in a correctional education information system.
Post-Release Data Elements
|Risk Factor Score
Employment (Date and Type)
Participation in Education Programs (Date and Type) Special Programs or Services