Research Paper on Educating Offenders: The Debate on Correctional Facility Treatment

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1708 Words
Date:  2023-01-28


For more than a century, there has been an unending debate on how individuals in the American correctional facilities should be treated (Bazos & Jessica 1; Esperian 316). The division among policymakers has been on whether offenders are only to be punished and expect them to change or if it possible use other means such as education to change their behavior and contribute to the welfare of the society. Today, they seem to lean on the latter, though with some reservations. Education is viewed by many as a means to reduce reoffending and integrating offenders in the community (Bazos and Jessica 1; Coley & Barton 2; Esperian 316; Harer 2; Kaiser 18).

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In the United States, each day, there are more than 6,730,900 residents, representing about 1 in 37 adults, under some correctional supervision (Danielle & Glaze 26). Among these population, more than 2.1 million are either in jail or prison and approximately 4.6 on parole or probation (Danielle & Glaze 26). While there are considerable concerns among the general public whether these rates are due to failures in major domestic policies, criminologists and policymakers are increasingly convinced that the current levels of interventions are excessive, maybe just not effective, as reported by Legislative Analyst's Office (Taylor 3). Although there is this consensus, they seem not to agree on the effective strategies to curb these excessive populations in correctional facilities with some wishing to inflict punishment on the incarcerated and those who believe education and vocational training is a valid form of rehabilitation (Behan 20; Oakford et al. 17; Rubin 2).

This paper supports the importance of education in prison and argues that education and vocational training is the valid form of rehabilitation for those incarcerated. The paper reviews various research exploring the role of education and vocational training in reducing recidivism, costs in prison spending, and increasing chances of employment after re-entry into society. It discusses the effects of education on the rehabilitation of incarcerated; the interaction between education and recidivism; and the role education plays in the lives of the inmates during retry into the society.

In the last four decades, policymakers have made great strides in responding to crimes by implementing tough measures such as mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes laws, building and crowding of correctional facilities, truth-in-sentencing laws, austere living conditions in prisons, parole programs, boot camps and intensive supervision probation (Behan 24; Danielle & Glaze 26). However, within this context, the capacity of the rehabilitative program to function as a correction policy and practice has failed (Danielle & Glaze 26).

On moral grounds, correction rehabilitation is justified as an excellent substitute to measures imposing pain on the offenders and investing in the lives of the offenders, but correctional rehabilitation cannot be said to be effective if the rate of recidivism is not reduced. Research has shown that a rehabilitation program can be effective at reducing recidivism if it has three basic principles: evidence-based, cost-effective, and focuses on the highest-risk, highest-need offenders (Taylor 5). One program with such qualities is a treatment program such as education and vocational training programs rather than the above mentioned punitive programs.

Education Disparities Between the General Population and the Incarcerated

This section will provide an overview of the current education levels among prison populations. Currently, it is believed the majority of these populations do not have access to postsecondary and college-level courses. This section will discuss these claims with references to current research.

Education is regarded as a gateway to economic and social mobility. This crucial gateway is currently being denied to more than 2.3 million convicts in the American prisons and jails despite the majority being eligible. Among the incarcerated population in state and federal prisons, 64% are academically qualified to enroll in college-level or postsecondary education programs (Bender 2). This means at the time of incarceration, the majority of offenders have a high school diploma or GED as their highest level of attainment. When compared 18% of the general population, about 41% of offenders do not have a high school diploma (Bender 2). Also, while 48 of the general population have acquired college or postsecondary education, in federal prison, only about 24% have attained the same level of education. The Vera Institute of Justice reported in 2016 that only 35% of state prisons provided college-level courses. However, nationwide, these programs served only 9% of the incarcerated persons (Oakford et al. 18). The Obama administration announced an experimental program in 2015 called the Second Chance Pell Pilot programs which allowed a maximum of 12000 convicted students to pursue college-level courses annually while serving their sentences (Bender 2; Oakford et al. 2). With these restrictions, access to postsecondary education is limited in prison.

Since the Trump administration took office, the future of these programs is uncertain. The congress is looking to decide whether the Pell Grants (Currently receiving 1% of the total Pell funding) for prisons should be included in their reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (Bender 2). The Vera Institute of Justice estimates that if the ban were to be lifted, only about 463,000 incarcerated individuals would be eligible for Pell Grants (Oakford et al. 2).

Michael Kaiser, in his article "Correctional Education, Because it Works" affirms that correctional education is vital in "unlocking the shackles of intergenerational incarceration" (18). Kaiser reports that minority communities with disparities in education are the ones leading in incarcerations. He states that approximately 50% of high school dropouts will be arrested at one point in their lives. Therefore, there is a strong link between crime, incarceration, and lack of education (Kaiser 18).

It is easy to conclude that for the majority of the prison population, quality education has not been received adequately, or it is out of reach. With such statistics, recidivism rates will continue to increase unless something is done, which is expanding access to postsecondary education to the incarcerated populations.

Correctional Education and Vocational Training as a Crime Control Program

This section will provide an overview of how education and vocational training can be used to prevent crime. Currently, it is believed the majority of people with post-secondary education, with skills to be employed concentrate on other activities to escape prison. This section will discuss this observation with references to the available literature.

Ideally, there are two forms of correctional educational programs: literacy development and vocational training (Bazos & Jessica 4). The latter focuses on acquiring skills directly transferable to a workplace, such as auto repair, appliance report, welding, plumbing, among others. Literacy development focuses on the traditional classroom model, which centers around improving reading and math skills (Bazos & Jessica 4). Based on the above forms, there two reasons why in-prison education can reduce future crimes. First, increased cognitive skills have an impact on behavior that helps participants live a crime-free life. Second, skills obtained through vocational courses can help a person engage in income-generating activities, keeping their minds off criminal activities.

Increased educational attainment is associated with increased chances of employment, hence increased income even among those with relatively low cognitive skills (Bazos & Jessica 5). Also, increased income means, an individual no longer thinks about committing a crime. Usually, a person chooses between pursuing employment in the labor market or committing a crime. The chances of committing a crime when having a high paying job are lower compared to when earning a low income or having no job at all. Therefore, to those earning some income with a legal job, choosing to commit a crime is a less attractive idea. It is prudent to conclude that higher educational attainment leads to increased potential earnings, which in turn reduces the probability of engaging in any criminal activity.

Another aspect of in-prison education is socialization. With behavior management, inmates have an opportunity to acquire "pro-social norms" (Bazos & Jessica 5). Interacting with facility educators familiarizes inmates with law-abiding norms as well as removing the feeling of alienation common in prison (Bazos & Jessica 5). These social skills reduce chances of convicts reoffending once released.

Miles D. Harer of Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1995 carried out a study "Prison Education Program Participation and Recidivism: A Test of the Normalization Hypothesis," presenting a hypothesis that in-prison education and vocational training programs reduced "prisonization" as these programs nurtured pro-social norms. Harer described Prisonization as the alienation of prisoners from prison management and staff as well as the larger society, and as such, inflict five forms of pain during the imprisonment: lack of material possession, reduced personal autonomy, limited access to heterosexual relationships, reduced personal security and isolation from the broader community (Harer 2). Harer also established that in many cases, prisoners group themselves in a "criminal subculture," which when combined with the limitations during imprisonment results in a hostile prison environment, with violence cases a common scenario. Consequently, there is a continuation of criminal behavior after re-entry into the community (Harer 2). Harer recommended education and vocational training as normalizing programs which would facilitate humane treatment of convicted persons, open up channels of communication between inmates and prison staff, thereby presenting an opportunity of escaping the pains of imprisonment (Harer 2). Education programs are legitimate and reinforce law-abiding norms.

RAND Corporation in 2013 established that the chances of prison inmates returning to prison after receiving education and vocational training are significantly low since they are more likely to find employment than their peers who do not have access to such opportunities (RAND Corporation 1). Employment after the release was at 13% for incarcerated individuals who participated in education or vocational training programs. In another research in 2016, RAND Corporation reported that children whose parents hold college degrees are more likely to complete college, thereby creating economic and social mobility for such families.

In 2006, Richard J. Coley and Paul E. Barton in their study "Locked Up and Locked Out - An Educational Perspective on the US Prison Population" explored the significance of correctional education to minority communities and established that among African American males aging between 25-29, the rate of incarceration was 13%, compared to 4% for Hispanics and 2% for Caucasians (Kaiser 19). This means American prisons consist of undereducated population, with the majority lacking a history of meaningful employment. Coley and Barton established that more than half of all males who did not have a high school diploma had a prison record compared to 1 in 10 white males. Also, Coley and Barton contended that minority communities suffer the most when the offenders return into society without employment skills as their children are at high risk of following in the footsteps of their parents. These children are left with unstable family envi...

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Research Paper on Educating Offenders: The Debate on Correctional Facility Treatment. (2023, Jan 28). Retrieved from

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