Correctional Education Association: Connecting Prison Educators for More Than 80 Years

By Christopher Zoukis

Teachers often receive credit for taking part in a profession that ensures a more prosperous future for young people. Educating children is seen as an investment for tomorrow, even if modest teachers often laugh at the idealized perception of their chosen career.

Educators engaged in nontraditional forms of teaching, however, can sometimes be forgotten. Since 1930, the Correctional Education Association has sought to change that. This U.S.-based nonprofit organization is an indispensable resource for prison educators both domestically and abroad. It’s a group made up of educators on the front lines in making for a better tomorrow, but who often face even greater challenges than their K-12 counterparts.   Image courtesy ceanational.org

Providing prisoners with an education, according to most analysts, is a way to positively change both a prisoner’s character and abilities. Prison educators are a critical component in the rehabilitative process and in the criminal justice system overall. The problem is that many of these educators don’t receive the same level of pay or benefits as traditional teachers, and it’s very difficult for them to network, collaborate and advocate their own positions.

The Correctional Education Association is a membership-based organization with the initial purpose of uniting prison educators. Once educators join, however, they quickly discover that uniting prison educators is only a small component of the services offered by this organization.

The Correctional Education Association advocates legislatively for increasing the prevalence of education in prisons and jails. One of the stated goals of the organization is “representing juvenile justice and adult correctional education to broader educational, political and social agencies.” In addition to this work, the organization also attempts to inform broader audiences of its goals through a number of different avenues.

One of these methods is a peer-reviewed international journal that is published quarterly. The primary focus of the journal is academic research related to correctional education, legislative issues and discussions based on best practices for educating prisoners. Members of the organization and independent subscribers to the journal receive current issues, in addition to an online archive of past articles.

In addition to the journal, the Correctional Education Association actually conducts its own in-depth research on issues it deems relevant to furthering prison education as a public good and to gain a better understanding of how to provide the best education to prisoners.  

Annual members to the association not only get access to a peer-reviewed journal, but they also receive quarterly newsletters updating them on pertinent news and trends concerning prison education. The organization’s website also has numerous ways of informing members and keeping them up to date on important issues.

The Correctional Education Association also provides means to collaborate and network with other professionals involved in prison education. This includes an exhaustive resource directory and networks for instructional programs, which keep prison educators involved in furthering their own training so they can provide the best possible instruction to prisoners.

Even with all this backing, many prison educators still receive salaries that are much lower than traditional teachers, and usually receive less generous benefits. The Correctional Education Association helps support the financial stability of prison educators by providing them with the option to receive low-cost insurance through the organization. Programs like this also offer incentives for talented teachers to consider prison education as a viable career option.

With more than 80 years of experience, the Correctional Education Association has developed into something far beyond its initial goal of connecting prison educators. While it still accomplishes that goal successfully, it has broadened its purpose to also advocate for criminal justice reform through prison education, to help support prison educators and to better inform educators and the public about issues concerning prison education.