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Practice Profile

Postsecondary Correctional Education (PSCE)

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Practice Description

Practice Goals
Postsecondary correctional education (PSCE) is academic or vocational coursework taken beyond a high school diploma or equivalent that allows inmates to earn credit while they are incarcerated. The credits earned from participating in PSCE may be applied toward an associate’s, bachelor’s, or graduate degree, depending on the program and participating higher education institution (Gorgol and Sponsler 2011; Davis et al. 2013). The goal of providing PSCE is to advance inmates’ educational attainment levels to improve their opportunities for employment following release from prison and reduce their odds of recidivating.

The 2005 Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities found that 85 percent of all reporting facilities offered formal educational programs to inmates. Of these reporting facilities, only 35 percent provided college courses; however, this differed by facility type. For example, almost all federal correctional facilities (100 out of 102) reported providing college courses, but fewer than one third of state facilities provided college-level classes (Stephan 2008). Unfortunately, participation in the programs is not always high and may be decreasing. In 2004, 7.3 percent of state prison inmates participated in college classes. This is down from 1997, when 9.9 percent reported taking college courses, and down even further from 1991 when 13.9 percent participated in college-level classes (Harlow 2003; Crayton and Neusteter 2008). Participation may be waning because of lack of awareness or interest in such programs and/or reduced funding.

Target Population
To participate in PSCE, inmates must have obtained a high school diploma or general equivalency degree (GED) credential. Beyond that minimum requirement, state and federal correctional facilities have a variety of eligibility requirements that attempt to determine who is mostly likely to benefit from PSCE classes and can, therefore, participate. Some of the eligibility requirements may include time to release, the inmate’s age, current offense, scores on standardized tests, and any in-prison infractions.

Practice Theory
There are several obstacles that incarcerated adults must face upon their release from prison. For example, low levels of educational attainment, lack of a steady job history, and the stigma of a felony conviction can be serious barriers to finding employment once one is back in the community. The idea behind PSCE programs is to improve inmates’ employability and help them meet the demands of fast-evolving, technology-based industries by offering a variety of certificate-based and skill-oriented courses (Nally et al. 2012).

Practice Components
There are a variety of methods used by correctional facilities to deliver PSCE classes to participating inmates, such as onsite instruction, correspondence courses, and video/satellite instruction. Gorgol and Sponsler (2011) conducted a survey of correctional education administrators from 43 states and found that the most common method of program delivery was onsite, in-class instruction. To overcome some of the difficulties with providing onsite instruction (such as limited space for classes and security concerns), some of the state facilities used distance learning or correspondence courses. States were less likely to report using online or video/satellite instructional methods (almost all states prohibit use of the Internet by inmates).

Instruction for the courses may also vary by facility. A 2005 survey by the Institute for Higher Education Policy found that 68 percent of PSCE courses offered in prisons were provided by community colleges. Only 16 percent of PSCE instruction was provided by public 4-year institutions; 10 percent was provided by 4-year private, nonprofit institutions; and 6 percent was provided by other types (such as private for-profit institutions) (Erisman and Contardo 2005).

The focus of PSCE can range from general, liberal arts courses to more job-specific courses. For example, coursework may be available in business, social and behavioral sciences, humanities, and computer science (Winterfield et al. 2009). More job-specific postsecondary courses, including some vocational training programs in various fields such bookkeeping, carpentry, and even coal mining, allow for inmates to earn certificates in those industries (Nally et al. 2012).

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 postsecondary correctional education (PSCE) compared with inmates who did not participate. Wilson, Gallagher, and MacKenzie (2000) examined the outcomes across 13 studies and found that those who participated in PSCE programs were significantly less likely to recidivate than those who did not participate (odds ratio=1.74). This means that, for example, if the comparison group had a recidivism rate of 50 percent, those who participated in PSCE programs would have a recidivism rate of 37 percent. Similarly, when analyzing the results from three studies, Chappell (2004) found a significant, but small effect on recidivism for inmates who participated in PSCE programs (mean r=0.24). PSCE participants recidivated at a rate of 22 percent, whereas inmates who did not participate in PSCE recidivated at a rate of 35 percent. Finally, Davis and colleagues (2013) looked at the results from 19 studies and found a significant odds ratio of 0.49, indicating that the odds of recidivating among inmates participating in PSCE programs are 49 percent of the odds of recidivating among 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 11979 - 1997130
Meta-Analysis 21990 - 199932132
Meta-Analysis 31980 - 2011220

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 (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 fewer 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.

There were 13 studies (out of 33) that examined the relative effects of postsecondary education. 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).



Meta-Analysis 2
Chappell (2004) conducted a meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of postsecondary correctional education (PSCE) on recidivism. Only published articles and unpublished research finalized between 1990 and 1999 were included in the review. PSCE was defined as any type of education beyond high school, or its equivalency, that has inmates in prisons or jails for students (including vocational, academic, undergraduate, graduate, certificate, or degree programs). If studies combined data on inmates participating in PSCE with inmates receiving adult basic education and GED courses, they were eliminated. Studies had to include recidivism rates of program participants to be included. Studies were located through literature reviews and requests of information from the Correctional Education Association. The review included correlational and quasi-experimental studies.

Fifteen studies were included, with a total sample size of 7,320 subjects. However, because the 15 studies included research designs without control groups, a smaller meta-analysis was conducted specifically with the studies that had control groups. In this smaller meta-analysis, there were only three studies with control groups, for a total sample size of 2,132 subjects. No information was provided on the age, gender, or racial/ethnic breakdown of the studies’ samples, nor on the location of the programs.

The effect size was calculated as the sample-weighted mean r, so that studies with larger sample sizes were given more weight than those based on smaller samples.

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, postsecondary education was defined as college-level instruction that enables an individual to earn college credit that may be applied toward a 2- or 4-year postsecondary degree. 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, having been 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 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, 22 looked at the effectiveness of postsecondary education programs on recidivism rates. There were not enough studies looking at the effects of postsecondary education on employment and achievement test scores to calculate an effect size. 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 for well). 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 that 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 less for those who receive correctional education.
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Other Information

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The federal Pell Grant program awards student aid for postsecondary education based on financial need. The grants were a major source of funding to pay for inmates to participate in postsecondary correctional education (PSCE) programs and receive credit without being heavily reliant on state or personal financing (Gorgol and Sponsler 2011). However, access to postsecondary education was severely limited with the passage of the Violent Crime Control Act in 1994. Inmates were no longer eligible for Pell entitlement grants beginning in the 1995–96 academic year (Tewksbury, Erickson, and Taylor 2000). Later, the passage of the Workforce and Community Transition Training for Incarcerated Youth Offenders Program (IYO) began providing funding for postsecondary academic and vocational education for youth offenders. The IYO statute limited participation to PSCE programs to persons 25 or younger who had earned a high school diploma or GED certificate and were within 5 years of release (the age limit was raised to 35 with the passage of the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act in 2008). The IYO grants and successor programs are the most commonly used source of funding to support PSCE programming (Gorgol and Sponsler 2011). The 2008 passage of the Second Chance Act, designed to improve reentry of incarcerated individuals, also provided funding toward a wide range of educational programming, including PSCE programs. But many inmates still rely on paying for postsecondary coursework using their own money.
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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
Chappell, Cathryn A. 2004. “Postsecondary Correctional Education and Recidivism: A Meta-Analysis of Research Conducted 1990–99.” Journal of Correctional Education 55(2):148–69.

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:

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.
https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/media/publications/pri_crayton_state_of_correctional_education.pdf

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 Institute.
http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR564.html

Erisman, Wendy, and Jeanne Bayer Contardo. 2005. Learning to Reduce Recidivism: A 50-State Analysis of Postsecondary Correctional Educational Policy. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Higher Education Policy.
http://www.ihep.org/assets/files/publications/g-l/LearningReduceRecidivism.pdf

Gorgol, Laura E., and Brian A. Sponsler. 2011. Unlocking Potential: Results of a National Survey of Postsecondary Education in State Prisons. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Higher Education Policy.
http://www.ihep.org/assets/files/publications/s-z/Unlocking_Potential-PSCE_FINAL_REPORT_May_2011.pdf

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

Nally, John M., Susan Lockwood, Katie Knutson, and Taiping Ho. 2012. “An Evaluation of the Effect of Correctional Education Programs on Postrelease Recidivism and Employment: An Empirical Study in Indiana.” Journal of Correctional Education 63(1):69–88.

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

Tewksbury, Richard, David John Erickson, and Jon Marc Taylor. 2000. “Opportunities Lost: The Consequences of Eliminating Pell Grant Eligibility for Correctional Education Students.” Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 31(1/2):43–56.

Winterfield, Laura, Mark Coggeshall, Michelle Burke-Storer, Vanessa Correa, and Simon Tidd. 2009. The Effects of Postsecondary Correctional Education: Final Report. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute.
https://www.urban.org/research/publication/effects-postsecondary-correctional-education
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Related Programs

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated programs that are related to this practice:

Postsecondary Correctional Education (New Mexico) Promising - One study
The program provides postsecondary educational classes and programs to prisoners via one-way Internet courses or onsite vocational instruction. The goal of the program is to reduce arrests following release from prison. The program is rated Promising. This program was shown to significantly reduce arrests within the 1-year follow-up period.

College Program at Maryland Correctional Training Center (MCTC) Promising - One study
This program offered postsecondary education for incarcerated individuals to reduce or break the cycle of continued or repeated criminal behavior. The program is rated Promising. Participants in the program had a statistically significant lower rate of arrests for a new crime than comparison group members.
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 18+

Gender: Both

Targeted Population: Prisoners

Settings: Correctional

Practice Type: Academic Skills Enhancement, Aftercare/Reentry, Vocational/Job Training

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
Social Scientist
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

Researcher:
Cathryn Chappell
Associate Professor
Ashland University
410 College Avenue
Ashland OH 44805
Phone: 614.794.0803
Email