New America has released a report that seeks to facilitate conversations around the potential of correctional post secondary education and/or job training programs as tools to mitigate the gap in skills and employment challenges for justice-involved individuals. In preparing individuals for reentry, it is important to understand whether those who are currently incarcerated have the necessary education and skills to obtain employment and what types of correctional programming could help them achieve economic success upon reentry.
This report analyzes the 2012/2014 U.S. PIAAC Household Survey and Prison Survey, which are the only existing representative data on adults’ skills in relationship to educational attainment and job training while incarcerated. Our purpose is to determine whether educational and job training correctional programs are meaningful to both reentry and labor market preparation.
This report aims to:
Identify the range of literacy and numeracy skills of incarcerated adults.
Identify whether a statistically significant gap in literacy and numeracy skills exists between incarcerated adults and the general public.
Identify whether participating in/completing postsecondary education and/or job training while incarcerated affects literacy and numeracy skill levels.
Identify the availability of, participation and interest in, and barriers and challenges to postsecondary education and job training programs for incarcerated adults.
A substantial gap in literacy and numeracy skills exists between incarcerated adults and the general public. On average, incarcerated adults tend to be significantly less proficient in literacy and numeracy skills than the general public. As one formerly incarcerated student said, “You have guys with an educational literacy on the elementary level. They are now the ones going into the system with no high school diploma.”
Completing a postsecondary degree or certificate while incarcerated has a positive effect on the literacy and numeracy proficiency skill levels of incarcerated adults, significantly reducing and even eliminating the gap in skills. Those in federal and state prisons who complete a postsecondary degree or certificate are statistically significantly more likely to score higher in both literacy and numeracy proficiency skill levels compared to those who do not. On average, students who complete a college degree or certificate score 26 points higher in literacy and 38 points higher in numeracy than incarcerated adults who do not.
Job training has a positive effect on the literacy and numeracy proficiency skill levels of incarcerated adults, significantly reducing the gap in skills. On average, those in federal and state prisons who participate in job training while incarcerated are statistically significantly more likely to score higher in both literacy and numeracy proficiency skill levels than those who do 7 not. Incarcerated adults who participate in job training, on average, score 12 points higher in literacy and 18 points higher in numeracy than individuals who do not.
There is no relationship between the amount of time incarcerated individuals have left to serve and whether they are interested in, participate in, and/or complete postsecondary education and job training programs. Policymakers should be careful about potentially limiting access to Pell Grants for individuals within a specific window of time to reentry. One state correctional administrator we spoke with noted that there are “two populations that are in the gap from participating in either the job training or the college program. Those with long and indeterminate sentences and those with less than six months left of their sentence.” Federal investments in these two correctional programs should not limit eligibility to individuals nearing release. All incarcerated adults show interest in, participate in, and complete these programs at similar rates. Regardless of time to reentry, postsecondary education and job 8 training have comparable positive effects on incarcerated adults’ proficiency skills.
Increase the availability of quality postsecondary education and meaningful job training opportunities.
Increase the choice of educational providers to incarcerated populations.
Provide opportunities to ensure correctional postsecondary programs lead to pathways to earn formal degrees.
Make postsecondary education and job training programs a part of the reentry process.
Recommendations for reinstating Pell Grants to incarcerated populations.
To read the full report, click here.