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Changing to meet challenges in correctional education.

"If the U.S. is to be counted among the winners in the next century, it will hae to make gravely important decisions--and act on them--before the end of this one."

Time, Fall 1992

The impending arrival of the year 2000 marks a time for expectation and reflection. It is a time of significant possibilities marked by an increased level of acceptance of change. We in corrections education must realize this potential by providing effective programs that serve more inmates with even fewer dollars than we previously have been allocated.

Correctional educators face enormous challenges related to the year 2000. We must be creative and make the most of our limited resources as we address the following program priorities:

* developing institution-based delivery models that allow us to serve more inmates through programs that prepare them for the increased skill and adjustment demands of the next century;

* developing pre- and in-service training programs that offer correctional educators the needed skills in academics, social skill development and cognitive problem-solving and vocational intervention; and

* developing effective programs that help inmates' transition into the community.

To address these priorities effectively, we must carefully examine the forces shaping today's offenders. If we do not carefully look at the inmate population, we will develop programs that do not meet offenders' social and economic needs, and we will be unable to obtain the needed political and economic backing.

Effective Programming

Curriculum development experts such as Jon Wiles and Joseph Bondi point out that effective programming can best be assured if developers understand the students' demographics, political and economic concerns, and students' learning characteristics. As we approach 2000, these variables will determine how best to meet offenders' needs.

Demographics. An analysis of corrections demographics information, when compared to projected job and literacy requirements for the next century, has important implications for correctional education program developers. The average inmate has a tested reading level of ninth grade and attended school into the 10th grade. This is at a time when, according to Arnold Packer, 71 percent of the jobs developed between 1985 and 2000 will require skills associated with post-high school preparation.

I.S. Kirsch and A. Jungeblut reported in a 1986 study of inner city youths that 41 percent of African American 17-year-olds were functionally illiterate. This finding is of particular interest to correctional educators because 47.4 percent of all inmates under federal or state jurisdiction in 1990 were African American.

Employment among the inmate population also is a major concern. An estimated 40 percent of inmates do not have a consistent employment history before their incarceration, indicating a significant lack in the skills needed to maintain employment.

According to Packer's projections for 2000, the work force will grow slowly, becoming older, more female and more disadvantaged. Only 15 percent of the new entrants will be native white males, compared with 47 percent in 1987. Eighty percent of new entrants will be women, minorities or immigrants. The work force will grow at 1 percent per year--the lowest rate since 1930. This phenomenon translates into significant opportunities for educators who can offer students skills needed to meet increased job demands.

In 1989, Lewis J. Perelman of the Hudson Institute advocated abolishing the "cult of academic credentials" and adopting competency-based employment standards. If we can produce workers who can meet both job demands and employability skill requirements, the likelihood of success for ex-offenders in a competency-driven market will increase dramatically.

Political and economic concerns. In a time of diminished public funds, it is difficult to convince legislators of the advantages of funding programs designed to enhance inmates' education and employability. When asked to choose between funding corrections programs and funding public schools and health care, many legislators place a lower priority on corrections.

We must convince lawmakers that investing in correctional education reverses the probability of recidivism. This cannot be done with promises; it only can be done with cost-effective programs and data that attest to savings from reduced recidivism.

Programs that lead to employment and reduced recidivism have been documented by Helen E. Cogburn, William G. Saylor, and Mark Myrent and Maureen Hickey. Canadian correctional programmers such as Robert R. Ross and Elizabeth Fabiano have demonstrated similar positive effects from a cognitive problem-solving approach designed to alter offenders' inadequate thinking skills and lead to effective decision making. We must demonstrate that these programs enable ex-offenders to stay in society as taxpayers, reducing the amount of money needed for prisons and providing resources for more productive societal pursuits.

Learning characteristics. Arguably, inmates present the most significant challenge that any educator will face. As a group, the inmate population includes an array of learning characteristics not found in any one public school classroom.

The incidence of handicapped individuals in corrections ranges from 28 percent to 62 percent, according to various studies. Lee Clark in 1986 found that 25 percent of incarcerated youths in a county corrections facility were mentally retarded, and 42 percent of adult inmates were identified as learning disabled in a three-state sample of 1,000 inmates by Raymond J. Bell, E.H. Conard and R.J. Suppa in 1984. These figures have major implications for program developers and personnel workers who must compete with school districts to employ special education teachers.

Offenders' cognitive skills have been identified as a major reason for incarceration. Ross and Fabiano point out that offenders fail to identify problems, identify alternatives, select solutions and carry out their choices. Clearly, if we accept that inmates commit crimes because they make poor choices, correctional educators must target this problem.

The importance of vocational skills for ex-offenders is well-documented. Prior to incarceration, between 40 and 50 percent of inmates are unemployed. Several studies have found that inmates who participated in vocational programs while incarcerated were less likely to recidivate, clearly demonstrating the importance of effective vocational programs.

Cultural Diversity

Cultural awareness is increasingly important to our economic and social success. The importance of culture is well-stated by Donna M. Gollnick and Phillip C. Chinn, who said in 1990: "Culture provides the blueprint that determines the way an individual thinks, feels and behaves in society. To understand an individual's behavior, we must understand his culture."

No group of educators is more in need of cultural diversity training than correctional educators. The over-representation of African American and Hispanic inmates in an educational environment primarily staffed by Caucasian teachers makes it vital for correctional educators to understand that cultural learning differences do not indicate inferiority.

Large numbers of African American and Hispanic students continue to exit public schools without receiving diplomas, according to the National Education Association. This trend is symptomatic of the general education system's inability to meet the educational needs of minority students. Correctional educators need to obtain skills related to multicultural instruction.

New Approaches

It is time to develop new programs that use recidivism as the single most important measure of their effectiveness. We must realize this is the chief issue to legislators. Program developers should break away from traditional programs that do not meet the employment and adjustment needs of inmates preparing to re-enter society. We must become comprehensive in our educational programming.

Offenders are not in prison because they cannot read. Acquiring a General Equivalancy Diploma, although worthwhile, is only a small part of the solution. We must recognize that offenders need to learn job skills and to develop thinking strategies that will help them avoid committing crimes. Above all, we must realize that programs must include support services after release. Doing less jeopardizes the expensive training we provide inmates.

It is unlikely that correctional education programs will receive increased funding. Therefore, we must search for creative alternatives that enable us to expand while using inexpensive yet effective resources.

Correctional Teaching Community

One example of a creative program is the Correctional Teaching Community (CTC), which is an attempt to incorporate components that will enable inmates to acquire essential skills to successfully adjust to society. In CTC programs, inmates are placed in various jobs according to their assessed abilities. The major components of the CTC are:

1. Placing inmates into work-based vocational training specifically related to assessed vocational abilities. Instructors identify and address job-related academic skills in the work setting. This approach has several benefits: increased exposure to positive role models, increased staff participation, increased individual instruction and integration of vocational and academic instruction.

2. Participatory planning of each work-based vocational training area. Management increasingly is becoming more participatory. Corrections has traditionally used a quasi-military form of management. Staff need to be more involved in planning and intervention in their areas of expertise. Each individual can have a positive effect on the mission of correctional education. Benefits here include increased effectiveness, improved staff morale and increased cost-effectiveness due to improved productivity.

3. Developing a cognitive problem-solving skills program. Any comprehensive model must recognize the need to modify offenders' thinking. This can be done only by enabling inmates to practice in everyday situations around the facility the problem identification and intervention strategies they learn in group settings. The CTC model incorporates all staff who interact with inmates into the cognitive problem-solving skills program. The model is designed to maximize institution resources by enlisting correctional officers and education staff in reinforcing the problem-solving techniques.

4. Developing a workplace literacy program. Inmates tend to respond to learning relevant to their perceived needs; they generally do not want to learn for the sake of personal enrichment. Reading instruction should therefore be designed to motivate students to read materials related to their vocational training.

Reading programs should make inmates proficient in job-specific and work adjustment skills. To accomplish this goal, instructors should begin with an evaluation that uses a variety of reading materials, such as newspapers, maps, pamphlets and assembly manuals. Instructors should assess how inmates read out loud and silently, whether they can carry out tasks after reading directions, and whether they can write notes to a fictional supervisor. Assessment materials should closely resemble reading and writing practices used in actual workplaces.

The results of the evaluation should be used to prepare a course of study based on three levels of achievement: beginning reading, reading dependence and reading independence.

Instructors should use relevant materials such as newspaper articles and assembly manuals involving specific work assignments of an industry. Inmates should become familiar with various job sites and learn which tasks are carried out at each station of the workplace to gain an overview of how work is assigned.

The inmates' reading progress must be determined through observation and informal testing. Inmates begin the transition to full workplace participation with mini-lessons focusing on new materials, newly updated procedures and complex or specialized techniques. At this stage, participants should be able to master a single routine. Then they should be able to build on this expertise by adding additional steps and tasks through reading combined with hands-on training.

Last, it is expected that inmates meet regularly with instructors to determine whether the training has been adequate. These meetings can be used to gather data for setting realistic goals for inmates every 60 days, which builds shared responsibility and encourages inmate involvement.

Transition from the institution can be effective and cost-efficient if it is considered as important as the institution training program. Careful planning and interagency collaboration must be provided for each inmate, and transition must begin and the inception of incarceration.

A quality transition program designed to reduce the likelihood of recidivism should include a transition coordinator responsible for ensuring that each inmate's academic, vocational and social skills are assessed and the appropriate program related to the assessment is carried out. The transition coordinator should assign a community contact person to help inmates with job placement and coordination of needed support services such as counseling, housing, medical, food, subsistence, child day care and parent training services. Such services are essential for the successful transition from inmate to productive citizen.

We face significant challenges as we approach 2000. We must make the most of existing resources in order to successfully meet our charge of equipping inmates with the skills needed to meet the vocational and adjustment demands of the next century.


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John S. Platt, Ed.D., is an associates professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. Paul D. Bohac, M.Ed., is the education program manager at Holmes Correctional Institution in Bonifay, Fla. William G.W. Barnes, Ph.D., is an associate professor in reading at the University of West Florida.
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Title Annotation:Correctional Education
Author:Platt, John S.; Bohac, Paul D.; Barnes, William G.W.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Previous Article:Spotlighting ACA's training division.
Next Article:Educating juvenile offenders: teaching techniques determine students' success or failure.

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