As many experienced educators have discovered, the atmosphere in which they teach is perhaps as important to a students ability to learn as the content and delivery of instruction. It is of little surprise, then, that corrections education is challenging. The highly prohibitive atmosphere of a correctional facility can be frightening, which is hardly conducive to learning. To further complicate the challenge, as many as 75 percent of the incarcerated population have learning disabilities or below-average cognitive abilities.This means that many incarcerated people may have trouble understanding instructions or completing complex tasks such as do my homework for me. Insufficient education and low cognitive abilities can be one of the reasons for crime, which generates new cases of deprivation of liberty.
Unfortunately, incarcerated youth and adults may be more in need of guidance than their non-incarcerated peers. Nearly 70 percent of incarcerated youth in New York State (NYS) are parents, suggesting a need for parenting skills. Two-thirds of the 450,000 offenders in state prisons are substance abusers in need of alcohol and other drug education. Inmates must not only learn a variety of academic and life management skills, they must also eventually apply them in an environment free of restrictions. For it is with these skills that their re-entry into the community can be facilitated.
These skills do make a difference. One study of participants in 26 transition program sites throughout NYS revealed a recidivism rate of 13 percent. In contrast, the recidivism rate for the statewide comparison group was 71 percent greater. Without the necessary education and skills (both occupation and social), approximately 25 percent of released individuals will be re-arrested within six months and 40 percent within one year.
The job of teachers and counselors, then, is to create an inviting and safe learning environment, while, at the same time, preparing students for release. To assist incarcerated education professionals in their endeavors, the development of a transition program is strongly recommended. Such programs offer a comprehensive set of instructional experiences and linkages to support services that increase the social and economic self-sufficiency of individuals upon release from incarceration.