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Practice Profile

Corrections-Based Adult Basic/Secondary Education

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Employment & Socioeconomic Status - Job placement

Practice Description

Practice Goals
Adult basic education (ABE) classes for incarcerated adult offenders provide instruction in arithmetic, reading, and writing [English as a second language (ESL) may also be taught, if needed]. ABE classes are targeted to adult prisoners who read below the ninth grade level. Those who can read at a ninth grade level move onto adult secondary education (ASE) classes. ASE classes provide high school-level coursework that generally prepares inmates to take tests, such as the General Education Development (GED) exam, to earn a certificate of high school equivalency (Crayton and Neusteter 2008; Davis et al. 2013).

The 2005 Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities found that 85 percent of all reporting facilities offered formal educational programs to inmates (Stephan 2008). The most common types of education programs offered by facilities included secondary education or GED (77 percent), literacy or first through fourth grades (67 percent), and fifth through eighth grades (66 percent). Although the majority of facilities responding to the census reported providing educational programming, participation in the programs is not always high and may be decreasing. In 2004, only 2.1 percent of state prison inmates participated in basic education programs and 19.2 percent participated in GED/high school courses. This is down from 1997, when 3.1 percent reported participating in basic education and 23.4 percent reported participating in GED/high school courses, and down even further from 1991 when 5.1 percent and 27.3 percent reported participating in basic education and GED/high school courses, respectively (Harlow 2003; Crayton and Neusteter 2008).

Practice Theory
There are several obstacles that incarcerated adults must face upon their release from prison. On average, prison inmates are less educated than the general public. For example, 37 percent of inmates in American state prisons had attained less than a high school education in 2004, compared with 19 percent of the general population in the United States (Davis et al. 2014).The idea behind providing educational programming in prison is to help inmates successfully reenter society with basic skills, such as math, reading, and writing, which are necessary for everyday living. A report on participants in the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative found that additional education was cited as the most common reentry need by formerly incarcerated inmates (94 percent), followed by general financial assistance, driver’s license, and job training and employment (Visher and Lattimore 2007).

Practice Components
Correctional education programs, including ABE and ASE classes, can vary dramatically from prison to prison. For example, whether participation in educational programming is voluntary or mandatory for inmates varies across jurisdictions. By 2002, almost half of states (44 percent) and the federal government had passed legislation or policies that required mandatory education for inmates. When education is mandatory in prison, inmates who have not achieved a specified level of education must participate in programming for a certain amount of time. Inmates can withdraw from the program only after the compulsory period has passed (Crayton and Neusteter 2008). The amount of required time in the program and the level of education achievement will also vary by jurisdiction.

In addition, the method in which classes are provided to inmates will vary by jurisdiction. Some prisons may use onsite instruction, where teachers and volunteers go to the facility to conduct classes. There are some programs that even allow prisoners to provide peer instruction to other prisoners. Distance learning programs involve coordinating with an outside educational institution. The correspondence courses are generally done through U.S. Mail, though some facilities may allow the use of the Internet. Under study release programs, prisoners are allowed to leave the facility to attend classes at nearby educational institutions (such as a community college or training center). Some state prison systems have partnered with local community colleges to provide onsite class instruction, while other states administer classes through their own correctional school district (Davis et al. 2013). Some jurisdictions have taken advantage of technological advances in correctional education. For example, satellite television has been used as a way to conduct instructor-led courses without requiring teachers/volunteers to be in the prison. In addition, there are numerous software programs available that can replace face-to-face classroom instruction all together.

Other Information
In 2014 the GED exam will be changed, to better align with the Common Core State Standards. Not only will the test become more rigorous, but it will also rely on a new test delivery method: computer-based testing will replace the paper-and-pencil exam. This may present a challenge to some states that are not prepared for the changes to the exam and cannot provide the means for inmates to earn their GEDs (Davis et al. 2014).

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Overall, three meta-analyses found that there were significant reductions in recidivism (including reoffending, rearrest, reconviction, reincarceration, and technical parole violation) for inmates who participated in adult basic education (ABE) and adult secondary education/General Educational Development (GED) programs, compared with inmates who did not participate. Across 11 studies, Wilson, Gallagher, and MacKenzie (2000) found that inmates who participated in ABE and GED programs were significantly less likely to recidivate than those who did not participate (odds ratio=1.44). This means that, for example, if the comparison group had a recidivism rate of 50 percent, those who participated in adult education programs would have a recidivism rate of 41 percent. Aos, Miller, and Drake (2006) examined the outcomes from seven studies and also found basic adult education programs had a significant but small effect on the recidivism rates (effect size = –0.114). This means that, on average, ABE programs achieved a 5.1 percent reduction in the recidivism rates of program participants compared with nonparticipants. Davis and colleagues (2013) examined the impact of ABE and high school/GED programs separately. They found across 13 studies of ABE a significant odds ratio of 0.67, meaning the odds of recidivating among inmates participating in ABE are 67 percent of the odds of recidivating among similar inmates not participating in the programs. For high school/GED programs, the odds ratio was 0.70, meaning the odds of recidivating among inmates participating in those programs are 70 percent of the odds of recidivating among inmates not participating.
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Employment & Socioeconomic Status - Job placement
Wilson, Gallagher, and MacKenzie (2000) looked at the impact of adult basic education, GED programs, and postsecondary education on employment status. Pulling results from four studies, they found that those who participated in education programs were significantly more likely to find employment than those who did not participate (odds ratio=1.70). Davis and colleagues (2013) also examined the combined impact of adult basic education, high school/GED programs, and postsecondary education. They found across 12 studies a significant odds ratio of 1.08, meaning that inmates who participate in academic programs are more likely to obtain employment following release from prison compared with similar inmates not participating in such programs.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11976 - 1997170
Meta-Analysis 21985 - 200672399
Meta-Analysis 31981 - 2011130

Meta-Analysis 1

Wilson, Gallagher, and MacKenzie (2000) examined the effectiveness of corrections-based education, vocation, and work programs for adult offenders through a meta-analysis of 33 experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations. Studies were included in the meta-analysis if they 1) evaluated an education, vocational, or work program for convicted adults or persons identified by the criminal justice system, 2) provided a postprogram measure of recidivism (including arrest, conviction, self-report, technical violation, or incarceration), 3) included a nonprogram comparison group (i.e., a comparison group that did not receive an educational, vocational, or work program), 4) were published after 1975 in English.

A thorough search of the literature led to the inclusion of 33 eligible studies. The program comparison–contrast was the unit of analysis, allowing for multiple program comparison–contrasts for each study. The 33 studies reported 53 program comparison–contrasts that were identified and coded for the analysis. More than 40 percent of the studies (14 out of 33) were from journal articles or book chapters. The other studies were either government documents (10 out of 33) or unpublished manuscripts (9 out of 33). The studies generally had large sample sizes. The median number of participants across the program groups was 129, and the median number across the comparison groups was 320 (a total number of participants was not provided). Slightly fewer than half of the studies included only male participants. Female participants were included in 19 studies; however, they generally represented less than 21 percent of the study sample, therefore it is difficult to generalize findings from the analysis to women. In the remainder of the studies, it was unclear whether study participants included both men and women. Information on the age and racial/ethnic breakdown of the study samples was not provided.

Most of the studies (17 out of 33) examined the relative effects of vocation training. The outcome data for adult basic education and General Educational Development (GED) programs are often combined in reports. Therefore, the authors combined the few studies that examined the effects of adult basic education and GED programs separately with those studies reporting only a combined effect (11 out of 33).

The form of effect size selected was the odds ratio. Recidivism was the primary outcome of interest. This was measured as a dichotomy (i.e., the percentage or proportion of program and comparison participants who recidivated). Employment status was also an outcome of interest in the analysis; however, only 16 studies provided data on the results of employment once offenders were released to the community. All mean effect sizes were estimated under a random-effects model.



Meta-Analysis 2

The 2006 meta-analysis by Aos, Miller and Drake updated and extended an earlier 2001 review by Aos and colleagues. The overall goal of the review was to provide policymakers in Washington state with a comprehensive assessment of adult corrections programs and policies that have the ability to affect crime rates. This meta-analysis focused exclusively on adult correctional programs.

A comprehensive search procedure was used to identify eligible studies. Studies were eligible to be included if they 1) were published in English between 1970 and 2005, 2) were published in any format (peer-reviewed journals, government reports, or other unpublished results), 3) had a randomly assigned or well-matched comparison group, 4) had intent-to-treat groups that included both complete and program dropouts, or sufficient information was available that the combined effects could be tallied, 5) provided sufficient information to code effect sizes, and 6) had at least a 6-month follow-up period and included a measure of criminal recidivism as an outcome.

The search resulted in the inclusion of seven studies of in-prison adult basic education. The seven studies included almost 2,400 treatment group participants (however, the number of comparison group participants was not provided). One study was published in a journal. The other studies were government reports or unpublished evaluations. No information was provided on the age, gender, or racial/ethnic breakdown of the studies’ samples, nor on the location of the programs.

The mean difference effect size was calculated for each program. Adjustments were made to the effect sizes for small sample sizes, evaluations of “non–real world” programs, and for the quality of the research design. The quality of each study was rated using the University of Maryland’s five-point scale; only studies that received a rating of 3 or higher on the scale were included in the analysis (a rating of 3 means a study used a quasi-experimental design with somewhat dissimilar treatment and comparison groups but there were reasonable controls for differences). The-fixed effects model was used for the analysis.



Meta-Analysis 3

Davis and colleagues (2013) conducted a meta-analysis of evaluations examining the effectiveness of programs that provide education to incarcerated adults. A comprehensive literature search was done that covered the period from Jan, 1, 1980, through Dec. 31, 2011. To be included in the review, a study needed to 1) evaluate an eligible intervention, 2) measure success of the program using an eligible outcome measure, and 3) employ an eligible research design. Eligible interventions were defined as educational programs administered in jails or prisons in the United States and published (or released) during the time covered by the review. In this review, adult basic education was defined as basic skills in arithmetic, reading, writing, and, if needed, English as a second language. Adult secondary education was defined as instruction to complete high school or prepare for certificate of high school equivalency, such as the GED.

Eligible outcomes were defined as measures of recidivism (including reoffending, rearrest, reconviction, reincarceration, technical parole violation, and successful completion of parole), employment (including having ever worked part time or full time since release, employed for a specified number of weeks since release, and employment status), and achievement test scores. Eligible research designs were those in which there is a treatment group composed of inmates who participated in and/or completed the correctional education program under consideration and a comparison group composed of inmates who did not.

The search resulted in the inclusion of 58 eligible studies. Of the 58 studies, 13 looked at the effectiveness of adult basic education on recidivism rates and 12 looked at the impact on obtaining employment. No information was provided on the age, gender, or racial/ethnic breakdown of the studies’ samples. The programs were located at correctional facilities throughout the United States.

The meta-analysis used a random-effects approach. The form of effect size selected was the odds ratio. The quality of each study was rated using the University of Maryland’s five-point scale; only studies that received a rating of 2 or higher on the scale were included in the analysis (a rating of 2 means a study used a quasi-experimental design but there were substantial baseline differences between the treatment and comparison groups that may not be controlled well for). The U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) rating scheme was also used, because the WWC instrument scores education studies; however, the Maryland Scale was primarily used to determine the rigor of studies.

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Cost

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Davis and colleagues (2013) conducted a straightforward cost analysis using estimates of the costs of correctional education and of reincarceration. They estimated the average annual cost of correctional education programs per inmate participant was between $1,400 and $1,744. The authors used a hypothetical sample of 100 inmates and assumed that correctional education would reduce reincarceration rates by 12.9 percentage points (based on the results from the meta-analysis). It was estimated that 3-year incarceration costs for those who did not receive correctional education would be between $2.94 million and $3.25 million. In comparison, the 3-year incarceration costs for those who did receive correctional education would be between $2.07 million and $2.28 million. This would mean the reincarceration costs are between $870,000 and $970,000 (almost $1 million) less for those who receive correctional education.
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Wilson, David B., Catherine A. Gallagher, and Doris Layton MacKenzie. 2000. “A Meta-Analysis of Corrections-Based Education, Vocation, and Work Programs for Adult Offenders.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 37(4):347–68.

Meta-Analysis 2
Aos, Steve, Marna Miller, and Elizabeth K. Drake. 2006. Evidence-Based Adult Corrections Programs: What Works and What Does Not. Olympia, Wash.: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.
http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/ReportFile/924

Meta-Analysis 3
Davis, Lois M., Robert Bozick, Jennifer L. Steele, Jessica Saunders, and Jeremy N.V. Miles. 2013. Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education: A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance.
https://www.bja.gov/Publications/RAND_Correctional-Education-Meta-Analysis.pdf
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Aos, Steve, Polly Phipps, Robert Barnoksi, and Roxanne Lieb. 2001. The Comparative Costs and Benefits of Programs to Reduce Crime. Version 4.0. Olympia, Wash.: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. (This meta-analysis was reviewed but did not meet CrimeSolutions.gov criteria for inclusion in the overall outcome rating.)
http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/rptfiles/costbenefit.pdf

Crayton, Anna, and Suzanne Rebecca Neusteter. 2008. “The Current State of Correctional Education.” Paper prepared for the Reentry Roundtable on Education. New York, N.Y.: John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Prisoner Reentry Institute.
http://www.urban.org/projects/reentry-roundtable/upload/Crayton.pdf

Cho, Rosa Minhyo, and John H. Tyler. 2013. “Does Prison-Based Adult Basic Education Improve Postrelease Outcomes for Male Prisoners in Florida?” Crime & Delinquency 59(7):975–1005.

Davis, Lois M., Jennifer L. Steele, Robert Bozick, Malcolm V. Williams, Susan Turner, Jeremy N.V. Miles, Jessica Saunders, and Paul S. Steinberg. 2014. How Effective is Correctional Education, and Where Do we Go from Here? The Results of a Comprehensive Evaluation. Washington, D.C.: RAND.
http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR564.html

Harlow, Caroline Wolf. 2003. Education and Correctional Populations. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ecp.pdf

Stephan, James J. 2008. Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 2005. National Prisoner Statistics Program. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
http://bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/csfcf05.pdf

Visher, Christy A., and Pamela K. Lattimore. 2007. “Major Study Examines Prisoners and Their Reentry Needs.” NIJ Journal 258.
http://www.nij.gov/journals/258/Pages/reentry-needs.aspx

Wilson, David B., Catherine A. Gallagher, Mark B. Coggeshall, and Doris Layton MacKenzie. 1999. “A Quantitative Review and Description of Corrections-Based Education, Vocation, and Work Programs.” Corrections Management Quarterly 3(4):8–18.
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 18+

Gender: Both

Targeted Population: Prisoners

Settings: Correctional

Practice Type: Academic Skills Enhancement, Aftercare/Reentry

Unit of Analysis: Persons

Researcher:
Lois M. Davis
Senior Policy Researcher
RAND Corporation
1776 Main Street
Santa Monica CA 90407-2138
Phone: 310.393.0411 ext: 7330
Email

Researcher:
Robert Bozick
RAND Corporation
1776 Main Street
Santa Monica CA 90407-2138
Email

Researcher:
Jennifer Steele
Policy Researcher
RAND Corporation
1776 Main Street
Santa Monica CA 90407-2138
Email