Prison Education Beyond GED and ESL -- Overview

By George Hook

The BOP Central Office  Division of Industries, Education, and Vocational Training is ultimately responsible for education and vocational training programs within the Bureau of Prisons, but each Federal prison has its own education department providing educational activities to federal prisoners. The Division manages Adult Continuing Education (ACE) activities, which are formal instructional classes designed to increase prisoners' general knowledge in a wide variety of subjects, such as writing and math, which is part of the overall budget and does not have its own distinct funding stream. Correctional institutions receive funds for educational programs through the regional BOP offices. 

The BOP has published an Occupational Training Programs Directory.  The Introduction to the Directory states that the Directory is updated annually.  However, the date on the cover of the only Directory available currently is September, 2006.  The Directory of that date lists occupational training and apprenticeship programs offered to prisoners in all the federal facilities.  

The stated purpose of these programs is to afford prisoners interested in furthering their education and enhancing their employability the opportunity to do so by enrolling in the various courses offered.  Included are exploratory, marketable skill, and apprenticeship level courses. Exploratory courses require an approved, structured curriculum and provide prisoners with an introduction to a cluster of related occupations. Marketable courses provide employment skills at the entry level for a specific occupational title or cluster of titles.  Apprenticeship training prepares the prisoner to qualify for a journeyman’s certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training.   At this latter level, prisoners learn a trade skill under the tutelage of a journeyman level supervisor.  All such programs offered in the federal prison system are registered with The Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training.  Also offered are Advanced Occupational Education programs which may lead to a one-year certificate or two-year degree in programs related to specific occupations or vocations.

According to the only apparently extant Directory, the aforesaid 2006 Directory, the BOP provides 81 more or less distinct courses in the Advanced Occupational Training category.  These Advanced Occupational Training courses range in duration from two days to 48 months. The typical duration is 12 months.

Many of these same courses categorized as Advanced Occupational Training are listed also as courses in the Vocational Category.  In addition, there are 53 other courses unique to the Vocational Category.  Courses in the Vocational Category range in duration from one month to 24 months.  The typical duration is six months.

In addition, the BOP touts an extensive Apprenticeship Program.  There are 127 more or less distinct apprenticeship programs offered.  These apprenticeship programs range in duration from 60 hours to 60 months.  The typical duration is 48 months.