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Literature Review

Prison Education

Scholars, policymakers, and practitioners generally agree that access to and participation in prison educational programming contributes to the success of inmates who are eventually reentering society (Davis et al., 2014; Vacca, 2004; Wilson, Gallagher, & MacKenzie, 2000). Inmate “success” is typically measured through recidivism and employment rates post-release. Across many rigorously designed empirical studies, Davis et al. (2014) report a 43 % lower recidivism rate and 13 % higher rate of post-release employment for inmates who participated in prison educational programming. Prison education can take on many forms including adult basic education (ABE), high school/GED, post-secondary education, and vocational education. Davis et al.’s (2014) meta-analysis found that all four types of prison education programs are associated with reductions in recidivism. Their explanation for this is that these four types of education span a spectrum of abilities with ABE addressing the needs of academically lower achieving prisoners and post-secondary education programs serving the academic achievers in prison. Davis et al. (2014) also calculated the odds ratio of success according to method of instructional delivery. They found that five of the seven methods of instructional delivery, particularly whole class instruction, class taught by college teacher, class taught by correctional employee, class taught by outside employee, and program with post-release services all are associated with a reduction in recidivism. They singled out classes taught by college teacher, classes taught by outside employee, and programs with post-release services as being particularly important in that they connect inmates with the outside community, directly and indirectly.

Prison education also saves money when considering long-term costs of crime and incarceration. Esperian (2010) argues that with prison education comes a reduction in recidivism, which means a decline in the number of prison inmates. From 2008-2009, Nevada saw a reduction of 1.6 % in prison inmates, which translated to a savings of $38 million in addition to avoiding $1.2 billion in prison construction costs. Esperian correlates the reduction of Nevada inmates and spending with accessible prison educational programming available to the inmates.

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