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A Better Path Forward for Criminal Justice: Training and Employment for Correctional Populations

Brookings - Training and Employment for
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Brookings: Grant Duwe and Makada Henry-Nickie - April 2021

People involved in the correctional system in the U.S. tend to be undereducated and underemployed compared to the general population. Roughly two-fifths of the people entering prison do not have a high school degree or General Educational Development (GED) credential,[1] a rate which is three times higher than for adults in the U.S.[2] The disparity for postsecondary education is even greater, where the rate at which adults have an associate’s degree or more is four times higher than what has been observed for prisoners.

Due to the stigmatizing mark of a criminal record along with the association between education levels and employment,[3] relatively high rates of unemployment have been observed for correctional populations. A number of studies have shown that the pre-prison employment rate (in the year before coming to prison) for people in prison is no higher than 35 percent.[4] Post-release employment rates have been found to increase shortly after individuals were released from prison but later decline,[5] eventually returning to pre-prison employment levels within a few years.[6]

Education Programming

The emphasis on providing education programming for correctional populations is due not only to the lower observed rates of educational attainment but also to the well-documented relationship between low educational achievement and increased antisocial behaviors.[7] Education and employment have each been identified as moderate risk factors for recidivism, which is the metric often used to determine the effectiveness of correctional programming. Risk factors for recidivism have been categorized as major (history of antisocial behavior, antisocial personality pattern, antisocial cognition, and antisocial associates), moderate (education/employment, family/marital, leisure/recreation, and substance abuse), and minor (low IQ and social class).[8]

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