New US Research report from 2019 Equipping individuals for life beyond bars

The US survey published in 2019 Equipping individuals for life beyond bars[1] is addressing the same crucial question the SkillHUBS project deals with: whether educational and employment training correctional programs are meaningful to both re-entry and labour market preparation. The US survey analyses the 2012/2014 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. Alongside the PIAAC data researchers collected qualitative data from over 200 individuals, including formerly and currently incarcerated students, federal and state correctional administrators, college and job training programming staff, instructors, college presidents, and family members of currently incarcerated students. The US was the only country that included additional sample of incarcerated adults in the sample frame alongside the general population, such data is not available in any other PIAAC country.

The report strives to identify, among others, the range of literacy and numeracy skills of incarcerated adults. Furthermore it considers whether participating in/completing postsecondary education and/or job training while incarcerated affects literacy and numeracy skill levels. Finally, the participation and interest in, and barriers and challenges to postsecondary education and job training programs for incarcerated adults. The research data is now available, revealing 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 re-entry.  The key findings are relevant to policy makers and adult educators that deal with incarcerated adults around the globe:

  • 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.
  • 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 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. All incarcerated adults show interest in, participate in, and complete these programs at similar rates. Regardless of time to re-entry, postsecondary education and job training have comparably positive effects on incarcerated adults’ proficiency skills.

On the basis of research findings, the report brings the following recommendations, suggesting a new, smarter approach to re-entry, one that begins while individuals are serving their time, and that prioritises postsecondary education and job training opportunities:

  • 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 re-entry process.
  • Recommendations for ensuring grants and financial means in order to provide incarcerated populations with opportunities for education and training.

Research suggests that ‘adults who have difficulty reading and using mathematics are at a loss in trying to obtain employment in the 21st century workforce. With the existing gap in skills between incarcerated adults and the general public, currently incarcerated adults are at a compounding deficit in obtaining employment post-release. Therefore, it is critical to prepare incarcerated adults for re-entry with effective rehabilitative programs’.

The report also suggests that further research is necessary to understand the curricula and intent of correctional postsecondary education and job-training programs in order to ensure the programs are high-quality, and impart the necessary skills for labour market success. In this respect the SkillHUBS project is expected to bring new insights, since it is introducing the innovative model and approaches to training of incarcerated populations based on their educational needs and on the survey on the demands side e.g. the needs of the employers.

 

The summary was prepared by Estera Mozina, Slovenian Institute for Adult Education

[1] To learn more about the analysis and research findings read the full report at: https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/reports/equipping-individuals-life-beyond-bars/

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