The 3 Rs: Raise the educational bar, reduce recidivism.

Author:Lugo, Lillian

True change begins with education. Throughout K-12, children in the U.S. enter their most formative years and exit hopefully more developed and better prepared to engage in society in healthy ways. Unfortunately, many who find themselves incarcerated in America have not gOne through such necessary forms of learning, and they often remain undereducated. This must change.

Practices, legislation, supplements

Differentiated educational practices in a correctional facility allow for enduring knowledge in vocational programming, which contributes to a reduction in recidivism and an increased employability potential. Further, delivering education that emulates a model, "on-the-outside" public school classroom allows inmates to be students and prison instructors to be educators in the truest sense. This method of instruction fosters an enthusiasm and desire for learning in the inmates, and results in an increased and steady interest among the inmate population to engage in classes--regardless of vocational program--that are delivered in this manner. This substantiates the additional development and support of educational programming, strategies, tools and technologies that promote inmate success while incarcerated and after release.

In New Jersey, the State Facilities Education Act (SFEA) and Assembly No. 4201 guide the educational programming received by inmates earning credits toward a high school diploma or honing skills to acquire a high school equivalency. Current legislation also offers vocational education to the inmates. A new legislation being introduced under Chapter 241, an act concerning inmate education and vocational training, supplements Title 30 of the Revised Statutes, and amends R.S.30:4-92.

Under this act, state correctional facilities are to "provide for vocational training to enhance and supplement the current vocational programming available...." Further, this programming "shall endeavor to: (1) improve upon the facility's most successful vocational programming offerings; (2) introduce new vocational programming offerings to inmates of the facility; and (3) provide vocational programming which is consistent with actual post-release employment opportunities and reflects the State's emerging industry and business workforce needs." (1) This supplement reflects the upward trajectory of career and technical education (CTE) programming that upon successful completion will lead to industry--or nationally--recognized certifications for students in correctional facilities. (2)

Outcomes and effects

Many studies thus far have focused on the effectiveness, diversity, and correlation of correctional programming to postrelease outcomes, especially those relative to employability and reduced recidivism. The results from these studies allow for the presentation of strategic opportunities for enhancing and improving prison programming. (3) A study focusing on recidivism rates identified inmates enrolled in educational programs from 1999-2000 at the Huttonsville Correctional Center. Findings were quite telling: an 8.75 percent recidivism rate among vocational completers; a 6.77 percent recidivism rate among GED and vocational completers; and a 26 percent recidivism rate among those who did not participate in educational programs of any kind. Overall, participation in correctional education programs appears to reduce recidivism. (4)

One of eight hypotheses developed in the three-state recidivism study, conducted by the Office of Correctional Education and the Correctional Education Association, offered that education would result in higher employment and wages for those inmates who were participants in educational programs while incarcerated. Findings supported this hypothesis to the extent that for every year of postrelease follow-up, wages were higher for correctional education participants had higher wages than non participants. (5)

Offering diverse career and technical education (CTE) programming is only part of the success contributing to these outcomes. Facilities must deliver quality CTE programs via the inclusion of sound pedagogies and best practices--including small learning groups, student discourse, scaffolding, differentiated instruction, use of technology, brain-based learning, etc.--to ensure quality learning for an enduring understanding of topics. These pedagogies and best practices support effective teaching and learning. Consequently, this contributes to the positive statistics relative to reduced recidivism and employability. However, these academically sound strategies are not easily applied in the correctional classroom setting. The introduction of a new vocational course at Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility (MYCF) set out to change that in November 2016.

What Mountainview did

MYCF is situated on 747 acres of rolling hills in Annandale, New Jersey, and is classified as a youth facility by the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC). (6) Inmates are 18 years of age and older; and, compared to the seven (of 13) denoted adult male correctional facilities in the NJDOC system, MYCF denizens are much younger. Under the umbrella of educational legislation, the MYCF education department services SFEA and A4202 students all year long.

On average, 15 percent of SFEA (high school) students at Mountainview never registered for nor attended high school. Those who did reported various but common obstacles contributing to their not having attained a high school diploma, including overpopulated and crowded classrooms, boredom, teacher apathy, rote lessons and lack of...

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