ERIC Identifier: ED275888
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Author: Imel, Susan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Correctional Education: Selected Aspects. Overview. ERIC Digest
This digest provides an introduction to correctional education through
a discussion of the following aspects: trends in administration, equity and
legal issues, the learning handicapped adult offender, vocational education, and
CURRENT ADMINISTRATIVE TRENDS
In 1986, 37 states and the District of Columbia provided correctional
education to incarcerated adults directly through state departments of
corrections (DOC). Although the DOC has been the traditional provider of
correctional education, there are some problems associated with this model, such
as lack of funding and difficult access to funding; low priority within state
corrections; isolation from, and lack of access to, community resources, such as
colleges and universities and the private sector; lack of coordination with and
support from other state agencies; and inadequately trained and certified staff.
In order to address the problems associated with the traditional delivery of
correctional education, several states have created alternative administrative
structures. The most popular of these is the special school district for
corrections, a model used in nine states. The most frequently identified
advantages of the school district model are as follows: increased funding,
better qualified staff, quality programs, and higher status for correctional
education within the correctional system. Despite the fact that the school
district model may have the greatest potential for overcoming problems
associated with the DOC model, it is often resisted: correctional agencies view
it as being too autonomous; state education agencies see it as diverting scarce
resources into unpopular or low priority areas; and state legislators,
responding to the public's fear of crime, are sometimes reluctant to invest in
so-called rehabilitative measures.
Although the school district model seems promising, its effectiveness depends
upon meeting some basic requirements for correctional educational delivery. The
following have been identified as crucial factors in effective correctional
education delivery in state adult systems:
--A systems approach to correctional education --A fully credentialled
educational administrator-in-charge --A fully certified instructional staff
--Compliance with state and federal law and adherence to applicable national
standards --A school board/advisory committee exclusively for correctional
education in the state.
EQUITY AND LEGAL ISSUES
During the past 15 years, extensive litigation in the American correctional
system has affected correctional education. Two areas of litigation that relate
directly to education concern inmates' right to treatment and parity of
treatment for female offenders.
Although inmates do not have an absolute right to treatment under the United
States Constitution, nearly every state in the country has adopted statutes
involving correctional education. These statutes tend to fall into one of three
categories. The first includes those that create an absolute right to
correctional education. A second category of statutes are those authorizing
educational programs but leaving correctional officials the discretion to
implement them. The third category includes those rare laws that establish
public policy commitments in favor of unlimited access to education at all
levels of instruction. Thus, although inmates do not have an inherent
constitutional right to education and treatment, these statutes can be
interpreted to mean that there is a broadly based, public commitment to
correctional education programs.
With respect to the right to treatment, the law is relatively well developed
and clear; concerning gender discrimination, however, it is still largely in
flux. Although there has been much correctional education litigation related to
gender discrimination, no case has been tried before the Supreme Court, and,
therefore, no standard has been developed to apply in such cases. Cases tried in
lower courts are evidence that federal courts are willing to ignore the
"hands-off corrections" policy and intervene forcefully to protect female
offenders from gender-based discrimination. Court decisions have made it quite
clear that when educational or other treatment services are available to male
offenders, females must be accorded parity. The disagreement among these lower
court decisions grows out of the appropriate interpretation of "parity": should
it be interpreted to mean "comparable to" or should it be interpreted to mean
"substantially equal to?"
THE LEARNING HANDICAPPED ADULT OFFENDER
Although the prevalence of handicaps among incarcerated juvenile offenders
has been widely studied, the extent of learning handicaps among adult offenders
has not yet been adequately documented. In a recent survey to which 31 states
responded, the average estimated prevalence of handicapping conditions among
adult offenders was 10 percent, with a range of 1 to 77 percent (Rutherford,
Nelson, and Wolford, 1985). These figures should be regarded as conservative,
however. This same survey revealed that while an average of 30 percent of
incarcerated adults were in some type of correctional education program, only 1
percent were receiving special education services.
Six components that are essential to the implementation of meaningful
correctional special education programs have been identified by several sources.
These are (1) the development of procedures for conducting functional
assessments of the skills and learning needs of learning handicapped offenders;
(2) the implementation of a curriculum where functional academic, social, and
daily living skills are taught; (3) the existence of vocational special
education in the curriculum; (4) the presence of programs and procedures for the
transition of handicapped offenders between correctional programs and the
community; (5) the existence of a comprehensive system for providing
institutional and community services to handicapped adult offenders; and (6) the
provision of special education training for correctional educators.
THE ROLE OF VOCATIONAL EDUCATION IN CORRECTIONS
The major purpose of vocational education programs in correctional facilities
is to teach inmates vocational skills so that they can obtain work upon their
release, thereby reducing recidivism. However, the public, inmates, and prison
staff members have differing expectations and perceptions of vocational
education. Members of the public perceive vocational programs in correctional
facilities to be much the same as those in the public schools; consequently,
they expect that vocational programs will turn criminals into skilled and
productive workers. Inmates, on the other hand, have a more pragmatic view of
vocational education. While they expect that it will provide them with some
level of skill, they tend to see it as a vehicle for meeting short-term needs
such as making their period of incarceration more bearable and leading to a
favorable parole review. Correctional staff generally have negative perceptions
of vocational education. They are likely to view it with suspicion, believing
that it reduces their control over inmates and permits inmates to manipulate the
system. Consequently, they expect little of it.
During the past 10 years, vocational education in corrections has focused
upon rehabilitation and reintegration. Whereas much effort has been devoted to
developing standards for vocational programs in correctional institutions,
vocational educators have also sought to demonstrate program effectiveness in
reducing recidivism. The literature is filled with recommendations for the
improvement of vocational education in prisons. Results from research related to
the impact of vocational education in recidivism are mixed, however. More work
is needed in this area.
POSTSECONDARY CORRECTIONAL EDUCATION
Programming at the postsecondary level is a relatively new area in
correctional education. Partnerships between colleges and universities and
correctional institutions have been encouraged by a combination of factors.
Among these are a rapid increase in the prison population during the last 15
years, decreases in college enrollments, and the availability of federal funding
for postsecondary correctional programs through the introduction of the Basic
Education Opportunity Grant. The number of postsecondary programs has increased
from 1 in 1953 to over 350 as of 1982. It is estimated that about 10 percent of
the nation's inmate population participates in postsecondary programs.
Most programs are provided by public 2-year and 4-year colleges and
universities with instruction delivered in the correctional institution either
through direct instruction or some type of distance education such as
correspondence study or teleconferencing. Programs are funded primarily through
federal and state grant monies although other funding arrangements, such as
providing inmate services in exchange for tuition, exist. Postsecondary
institutions offer traditional academic education, vocational programs, adult
basic education, and high school completion such as General Educational
Development (GED) preparation. These offerings enable inmates to earn high
school diplomas and associate or baccalaureate degrees.
Although postsecondary programming in correctional education has expanded
rapidly, a number of issues surround this program area. Two of the more
significant are to what extent should incarcerated individuals be given the
opportunity to receive a college education and what is the long-term impact or
effect of participation once incarcerated men and women are released into the
FOR MORE INFORMATION
This digest is based on the following six papers found in:
CORRECTIONAL EDUCATION: PERSPECTIVES ON PROGRAM FOR ADULT OFFENDERS ed. Bruce
I. Wolford, Information Series No. 310. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult,
Career, and Vocational Education, The National Center for Research in Vocational
Education, The Ohio State University, 1986. ED 272 770.
Wolford, B.I. "Observations on Correctional Education."
Coffey, O.B. "Trends in the Administration of Correctional Education."
Moke, P. "Equity and Legal Issues in Correctional Education."
Rutherford, R.B., and C.M. Nelson. "The Learning Handicapped Adult Offender."
Waidley, J. "Vocational Education, Industries, and Career Education in
Littlefield, J. "Postsecondary Correctional Education."
Rutherford, R.B.; C.M. Nelson; and B.I. Wolford. "Special Education in the
Most Restrictive Environment: Correctional/Special Education." JOURNAL OF
SPECIAL EDUCATION 19 (1985): 59-71.