The Feasibility of Using Federal and State Data to Assess the Status of Correctional Education Programs in the United States
Correctional education can yield significant fiscal and social benefits. While there is compelling evidence supporting the need for correctional education, federal and state investments in correctional programs over the past decade have fallen even as jail and prison populations have continued to rise. One reason for this decline is that legislators and the public are frequently unaware of the potential savings, in terms of fiscal resources and public safety, which correctional education can confer upon society. Yet, given the growth in the number of adults that are incarcerated, the low level of educational and occupational skills holdings that characterize this group, and the fact that an overwhelming percentage of these individuals will be released at some point, it could be argued that the need for correctional education has never been greater.
Increasing inmate access to correctional education programs will require providing state policymakers and the general public with a better understanding of the scope and effectiveness of correctional education programs and training efforts. Unfortunately, data collected at the federal level often lack the detail needed to inform policy formulation. While state level data offers some promise of supplementing this information, lack of comparable collection strategies across state systems, and reliability within, compromises the potential value of this data. As such, though federal and state data collection efforts can provide a good deal of information about the outcomes of correctional education—and a great deal about program offerings in particular states—there are still fairly large gaps in our understanding of how state correctional education programs operate nationwide, and the characteristics of inmate participation within facilities.