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Evaluating the Impact of Adult Correctional Education

By Darian Hanrahan

According to a 2014 meta-analysis by the RAND Corporation, adults who participated in correctional education programs were shown to have, on average, a 43 percent less likelihood of recidivating and were 13 percent more likely to obtain employment upon their release from incarceration.

Screenshot 2015-05-01 10.53.18How Effective is Correctional Education and Where Do We Go From Here examined basic and secondary education, vocational education, and postsecondary education programs offered within U.S. jails and prisons. It found that for every dollar invested in correctional education, states save approximately $5 on reincarceration costs.

“Correctional education programing for adults is not only effective,” said Lois Davis, one of the study’s lead researchers, “it is dramatically effective.”

Aligning Programs in Indiana
One such agency working to bring these outcomes to its facilities is the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC).

According to a study that tracked 6,561 individuals within the five years after their release from IDOC in 2005, the recidivism rate for those without a high school diploma or equivalency was 55.9 percent, compared to 46.2 percent for those with a GED or diploma and 31 percent for individuals who have a college education.

To increase the marketability of adults who have been involved in its system, IDOC requires those engaged in its registered apprenticeship programs to participate in, at least, a high school equivalency program. IDOC also works with some individuals one-on-one to develop a list of potential jobs they are qualified for upon their release, based on that individual’s training and education as well as current occupational licensing restrictions and local labor market trends. Adults who join this separate Ex-Offender Employment Program, operated in partnership with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, must have at least their GED or TASC completed.

Additionally, with the passage of the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and its expanded funding for state correctional education programs, the department is planning to redesign its overall educational curriculum to further incorporate job skills and increase employability.

“We want to align our education program with what is needed to get jobs,” said Dr. John Nally, IDOC director of education.

New Research
Although research has shown that correctional education can be effective in reducing recidivism and improving education outcomes and employability, several questions remain unanswered, such as which programs and program components perform better.

One of the goals of the Vera Institute of Justice’s (Vera) pilot initiative, “Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project,” launched in 2012, is to examine the impact that access to postsecondary education and supportive reentry services has on education attainment, employability, overall earnings, and recidivism. As part of the initiative, three participating states—Michigan, New Jersey, and North Carolina—are aligning the degrees and courses they offer in state correctional facilities to state and local labor market trends. State and local officials involved are also developing partnerships with local workforce boards, local reentry councils, business representatives, and individual employers in an effort to connect education and employment opportunities. Results from the pilot sites are not yet available, but the ultimate goal of the project is to “spur national replication,” should these pilot sites demonstrate success in improving employment, education, and recidivism outcomes, according to Fred Patrick, director of Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections.

“Ensuring that people who are returning to their communities from prison have the educational credentials to successfully enter the labor market can both improve public safety and save taxpayer dollars,” he said.