Laying the Groundwork



How States Can Improve Access to Continued Education for People in the Criminal Justice System

Continued education is proven to have a notable impact on reducing recidivism. Yet, the vast majority of states have major barriers to postsecondary education opportunities for people during incarceration and upon release.

Laying the Groundwork provides a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of postsecondary education policy and practices. The report identifies four fundamental “building blocks” that states should have in place to ensure that high-quality postsecondary education is readily accessible to currently and formerly incarcerated people.

Laying the Groundwork was developed by The Council of State Governments Justice Center, with support from Lumina Foundation.

Key Findings

No state currently has all four of the fundamental building blocks in place, and only half of states have any one of the building blocks.

  • Fewer than one in three states are using key federal and state funding streams to support postsecondary education for people while incarcerated and after release.
  • Less than half of states give incarcerated people access to a full range of postsecondary education programs aligned with local labor market trends and employer needs.
  • More than three-quarters of states impose statutory and/or administrative restrictions that limit access to postsecondary education for individuals who are currently and formerly incarcerated.
  • Only one-quarter of states offer incentives and tangible supports to promote postsecondary participation.


Full Report

Laying the Groundwork (PDF) presents detailed findings from a 50-state study to help state and local leaders determine whether their state is making sufficient efforts to improve educational and employment outcomes for incarcerated people by providing postsecondary education opportunities. A checklist of best practices related to each fundamental building block is included to guide needed reforms.


State Fact Sheets

Click a state to view a PDF with state-specific analysis and research findings.