Prison-based college presents challenges, but can succeed, study finds

May 22, 2019

Creating a prison-based program where incarcerated individuals can take college classes and then work toward a degree upon release can be successful, but many obstacles challenge the success of such efforts, according to a new study.

In evaluating a five-year effort in North Carolina, researchers found it took incarcerated individuals longer than traditional students to complete coursework, according to the study by researchers from the RAND Corporation and RTI International.

"The program we evaluated was given high marks by both the participants and the prison officials who were involved," said Lois Davis, lead author of the study and a senior policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "But an overarching lesson is that it takes time to implement a prison and community-based program that has many partners and targets a population that has diverse needs."

Interest in prison-based education has grown in recent years as an approach to reduce recidivism and improve the future of people who are incarcerated for crimes.

In 2018, RAND updated and expanded its earlier evaluation of the effectiveness of correctional education programs and found that the original findings still hold. According to RAND's research, inmates who participate in correctional education programs have a 13-percentage-point reduction in their risk of returning to prison and every $1 invested in prison education can reduce future incarceration costs by $4 to $5 in the near term.

The new study evaluates the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education program established in North Carolina state prisons in 2013 as part of a multi-state demonstration project supported by several foundations.

To help incarcerated individuals obtain a postsecondary education degree or credential, prisons offered them college classes during the final two years of their incarceration, with support continuing for another two years following release to help them achieve their degree or certificate goal.

Researchers from RAND and RTI evaluated the program's adoption and success rate, interviewing more than 70 stakeholders, program staff and participants to gather input.

Overall the program enrolled 201 students at the six participating prisons, where classes were taught by instructors from local community colleges. The in-prison portion of the program was completed by 150 people, who transitioned to classes at community colleges once released from incarceration.

Participants had to agree to be released from prison into one of three communities in North Carolina where support services were concentrated to help them transition into community colleges. While this approach made sense from a resource perspective, it was not ideal for all participants because it kept them from being near supportive family members, according to researchers.

Among the recommendations made by the report is allowing participants more time to build their general education credits prior to their release from prison and allowing people to initially attend college part-time once they are released, which would allow them to better acclimate to their new lives.

Researchers also recommend that programs have a geographically diverse group of release communities so participants can live near their family members and other supports, and that community colleges and other community-based educational providers are a part of the planning process.

"The North Carolina Pathways Program offers valuable insights into the success and challenge of implementing a prison-based postsecondary education program intended to help participants continue their education upon release," said Michelle C. Tolbert, the study's co-author and a researcher at RTI, a nonprofit research institute in North Carolina. "These lessons can help guide other states that want to undertake such efforts."
-end-
Support for the project was provided by the Laughing Gull Foundation and the Vera Institute of Justice. The study, "Evaluation of the North Carolina's Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Program," is available at http://www.rand.org.

The project was conducted within the RAND Justice Policy Program, which conducts research across the criminal and civil justice system on issues such as public safety, effective policing, drug policy and enforcement, corrections policy, court reform, and insurance regulation.

RAND Corporation

Related Education Articles from Brightsurf:

Applying artificial intelligence to science education
A new review published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching highlights the potential of machine learning--a subset of artificial intelligence--in science education.

Dementia education
School-based dementia education could deliver much needed empathy and understanding for older generations as new research from the University of South Australia shows it can significantly improve dementia knowledge and awareness among younger generations.

How can education researchers support education and public health and institutions during COVID-19?
As education researchers' ongoing work is interrupted by school closures, what can they do to support education and public health institutions dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic?

Online education platforms could scale high-quality STEM education for universities
Online and blended (online and in-person) STEM instruction can produce the same learning outcomes for students as traditional, in-person classes at a fraction of the cost, finds research published today in Science Advances.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

The new racial disparity in special education
Racial disparity in special education is growing, and it's more complex than previously thought.

Education may be key to a healthier, wealthier US
A first-of-its-kind study estimate the economic value of education for better health and longevity.

How education may stave off cognitive decline
Prefrontal brain regions linked to higher educational attainment are characterized by increased expression of genes involved in neurotransmission and immunity, finds a study of healthy older adults published in JNeurosci.

Does more education stem political violence?
In a study released online today in Review of Educational Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, three Norwegian researchers attempt to bring clarity to this question by undertaking the first systematic examination of quantitative research on this topic.

Individual education programs not being used as intended in special education
Gone are the days when students with disabilities were placed in a separate classroom, or even in a completely different part of the school.

Read More: Education News and Education Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.