Providing College To Prison Inmates Series (Part 6)

This is the sixth blog post in the ‘Providing College To Prison Inmates Series.’ This series is based upon seven "Recommendations for Policy and Practice" presented by Contardo on pages 154 through 156 of her text Providing College To Prison Inmates.

"Document successes and failures." --Contardo (pg. 156)

So far we have discussed how to implement programs, the challenges with doing so, and several models to follow. Now let's take a look at measuring successes and failures, and developing a body of research that may facilitate other correctional educational programs.

From day one of any correctional education program, documentation needs to be a paramount concern. This is because it is only through reflection that we can improve and prove a particular program's worth. This means recording the personal information of every student instructed (e.g. name, age, charge, level of previous educational attainment, etc.). By doing so, we will be able to see which demographics do well and which ones don't. We'll also be able to better craft programming so that additional attention and support can be provided to demographics which prove to do poorly in such programs.

This also means maintaining detailed records of the educational programs which individual students sign up for, student grades and progress, and completion rates. By doing so, and analyzing a representative sample of participants, researchers and administrators will be able to ascertain which programs are efficacious and which ones aren't. Through the recording of grades and progress they'll also be able to see the trouble points in each program. Hence, be able to improve the program and raise completion rates. Also, by recording program enrollments and completions, it will be possible to see if any particular program has an impact upon recidivism rates down the road.

And last, it is vital to record the release dates of participants and monitor them to see if they recidivate. This monitoring needs to be on a larger scale than previously implemented because holes have appeared in previous monitoring methods (e.g. only monitoring one locality, court, county, state, etc.). The result of the ‘holes’ is that a true recidivism rate has not emerged. By closely monitoring participants after their release, we will be able to definitively ascertain if a particular program works or not. This will allow the industry to prove its worth, advocate for more funding, and shift programs to models which have proven to work better than others.

By collecting this information from the start, researchers and academics will be able to review the findings. In doing so, they can see which programs have high success rates, when students tend to have problems, if the programs lower recidivism rates, and much more. All of this is affected through the detailed program and participant documentation. The truth of the matter is that no one knows how or when this research will be utilized. But what we – correctional education researchers and advocates – do know is that the information needs to be available when it is needed to whoever needs it.

On a larger scale, by recording all of this information, the programs will have weight behind them. Since I am a prison education researcher and advocate, I have no doubt that these educational programs will prove to reduce recidivism rates, lower instances of institutional infractions, benefit impoverished communities, and much more. Though, my personal opinion and research are not what counts. We need to be able to substantiate my theories and the theories of other prison education researchers and advocates, in the most academically strenuous manner possible. This way, all opposition to correctional education can be silenced and the American people can understand the truth once and for all.

I understand that everyone isn't a statistician or an expert in documentation. You don't need to be to do your part in this movement to better document correctional education programs. All you need to do is what you can. For me, this means recording all of my student's grades, previous level of academic attainment, and completion rates. It also means publishing these results after every cohort of students so that others can utilize my research. I implore you to do the same. I also implore you to encourage others to do so, too.

As we all know, the fight for correctional education is a challenging one with many opponents. Most of these opponents base their opposition on either personal opinion or the few badly skewed studies on correctional education's effect on recidivism; none of which show a negative result – in terms of recidivism – but a reduced percentage rate. As such, it is up to us to do what we can to promote new and more comprehensive studies. It is up to us to make the truth known. It is up to us to create such a huge body of research on the positive effects of correctional education that anyone opposing it will look like what they really are: misguided or personally biased.

My question for you today is: Will you heed the call?