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Correctional Education

In terms of mass incarceration, the United States is, by far, the world leader among developed nations (Beckett et al., 2018; Blumstein, 2020; Dignam, 2016; Jouet, 2019; Wiseman, 2018).  There are more than two million people locked up in state prisons, federal penitentiaries, and local jails throughout the United States (Looney & Turner, 2018; Sawyer & Wagner, 2018; Seabrook, 2019; Todd, 2019). The rate of incarceration for black men is well over five times that of white men (Carson, 2020; Dignam, 2016).  Moreover, Incarceration in the United States is tied, in part, to demographic status, social disadvantage, and lack of education (Courtney, 2019; Gorgol & Sponsler, 2011; Morenoff & Harding, 2014; Oakford et al., 2019; Patterson, 2019; Simes, 2018; Tighe et al., 2019).

Many incarcerated persons enter prison without having the necessary skills and resources to participate successfully with mainstream society. Likewise, many, if not most, of these same people leave prison without the essential skills and resources for re-integrating into their communities (Gould et al., 2015; Morenoff & Harding, 2014). A large number of formerly incarcerated persons will return to prison as repeat offenders (Alper et al., 2018; Davis et al., 2013; Sawyer & Wagner, 2020). However, research has consistently shown that recidivism rates are significantly reduced among former inmates who participate in education programs, most notably higher education, during their confinement (Davis et al., 2013; Dignam, 2016; Inderbitzin, 2015; Simpson, 2019). Indeed, providing a college education to prison inmates has social and economic benefits.  

For more information, please visit the inmate education resources on this website.

The Efficacy of Justice-Involved Education

Instructional Leadership in Prison Education

Teaching in Prison

Future Research in Prison Education

Additional Resources


Alper, M., Durose, M. R., & Markman, J. (2018). 2018 update on prisoner recidivism: A 9-year follow-up period (2005-2014) (NCJ 250975). U.S. Department of Justice.

Beckett, K., Beach, L., Knaphus, E., & Reosti, A. (2018). U.S. criminal justice policy and practice in the twenty-first century: Toward the end of mass incarceration? Law and Policy, 40(4), 321-345.

Blumstein, A. (2020). Dealing with mass incarceration. Minnesota Law Review, 2651-2671.

Carson, A. (2020). Prisoners in 2018. U.S. Department of Justice.

Courtney, J. A. (2019). The relationship between prison education programs and misconduct. The Journal of Correctional Education, 70(3), 43-59. 

Davis, L. M., Bozick, R., Steele, J. L., Saunders, J., & Miles, J. N. V. (2013). Evaluating the effectiveness of correctional education: A meta-analysis of programs that provide education to incarcerated adults. RAND Corporation. 

Dignam, B. (2016). Learning to Counter Mass Incarceration Symposium Essays. Connecticut Law Review, 1217-1230. 

Gorgol, L. E., & Sponsler, B. A. (2011). Unlocking potential: Results of a national survey of post-secondary education in state prisons. Institute for Higher Education Policy, 1-26. 

Gould, M. R., Harkins, G., & Stevens, K. (2015). College civic engagement and education behind bars: Connecting communities, creating change. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2015(170), 101-109. 

Inderbitzin, M. (2015). Active learning and college and prison partnerships in liberal education. Liberal Education, 101(3), 46-51. 

Jouet, M. (2019). Mass incarceration paradigm shift?: Convergence in an age of divergence. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 109(4), 703-768. 

Looney, A., & Turner, N. (2018). Work and opportunity before and after incarceration. The Brookings Institution.

Morenoff, J. D., & Harding, D. J. (2014). Incarceration, prisoner reentry, and communities. Annual Review of Sociology, 40(1), 411-429.

Oakford, P., Brumfield, C., Goldvale, C., Tatum, L., diZerega, M., & Patrick, F. (2019). Investing in futures: Economic and fiscal benefits of post-secondary education in prison. Vera Institute of Justice, 1-56. 


Patterson, M. (2019). Incarcerated adults with low skills: Findings from the 2014 PIAAC prison study. Journal of Research & Practice of Adult Literacy, Secondary and Basic Education, 14-24. 

Sawyer, W., & Wagner, P. (2020). Mass incarceration: The whole pie 2020.


Seabrook, R. L. (2019). Collateral damage: The war on drugs and the impact on women, children, and families. In G. Robinson & E. E. Smith (Eds.), Education for liberation: The politics of promise and reform inside and beyond America's prisons. Rowman & Littlefield. 

Simes, J. T. (2018). Place and punishment: The spatial context of mass incarceration. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 34, 513-533. 

Simpson, D. R. (2019). Pedagogy of the offender. In R. Ginsburg (Ed.), Critical perspectives on teaching in prison: Students and instructors on pedagogy behind the wall. Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group. 

Tighe, E. L., Reed, D. K., Branum-Martin, L., & Nwosu, N. A. O. (2019). Examining correlates of PIAAC literacy and passage comprehension performance among the U.S. adult prison population. The Journal of Correctional Education, 70(3), 2-42. 

Todd, T. A. (2019). Mass incarceration: The obstruction of judges. Law and Contemporary Problems, 82(2), 191-215. 

Wiseman, S. R. (2018). Bail and mass incarceration. Georgia Law Review, 53(1), 235-280.

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