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Future Research in Prison Education

Research pertaining to the importance and impact of educating justice-involved persons is a burgeoning field of study.  A significant number of important studies have been conducted which suggest educating incarcerated persons has a great social impact.  Although much research related to prison education has been conducted there are significant gaps in the literature.  Data pertaining to the educational characteristics of specific institutions is limited.  The impact that education has on incarcerated students, from their unique perspective, is not thoroughly evaluated in the literature.  The reasons that some prisons are unable to adequately staff rehabilitation programs are not fully understood.  Lastly, little is known about the philanthropic outcomes of providing an education to incarcerated students who will never be released from prison.

Proposal 1:  Quantitative or mixed-methods studies should be conducted at the institutional level.  This will help determine the positive or negative characteristics of individual programs.  Weaknesses in existing programs can be determined, and improvement plans based on findings can be implemented.  Inmate education programs that perform well can be identified and used as a basis for program improvement at underperforming institutions.


Proposal 2:  Much research has been conducted using quantitative analysis.  However, qualitative studies using phenomenological design are quite scarce.  Research should be conducted which examines the lived experience of inmates who participate in education programs during their incarceration.  The actual experiences of subjects can help inform researchers as to motivation, long-term goals, and the perceived benefits of participating in an academic program.  Findings can be used to implement policies that improve inmate education programs.


Proposal 3:  Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods research should be conducted to evaluate the reasons that some prisons are unable to procure an adequate number of staff to properly implement education-based rehabilitation programs.  The findings of such studies can be used to address the issues which preclude instructors from participating in prison education programs.


Proposal 4:  Qualitative research which examines the efficacy of participating in prison education programs for students who will never, or are unlikely, to be released from prison should be conducted.  Such research should evaluate the social, individual, economic, and institutional impact of providing educational opportunities to inmates with the designation life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).  Findings can help determine whether expanded access for LWOP students will result in net positive outcomes.

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