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Former prison inmates' recidivism rates: A content analysis study of the impact of educational and rehabilitation programs

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Author: Peter J. P. Sr Lathrop
This study was an analysis and synthesis of the existing research on prison-based rehabilitative programs and their positive or negative impact on recidivism rates. This study utilizes qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methodologies. This study is a qualitative research in nature in that the analysis of research findings is based on the individual interpretations of this researcher. However, the majority of the data set is quantitative in nature in that much of the findings are based on varied empirical studies on the effect(s) of prison-based rehabilitation programs might have on recidivism. This study will also utilize a mixed method approach. Purpose of this study is to add to the current research on prison-based rehabilitation programs in order to ascertain if offering inmates' rehabilitation programs reduces recidivism rates. This study added to the base of knowledge on prison-based rehabilitation of inmates in local, federal, and state prisons and the feasibility of future research on this subject.

Table of Contents





List of Tables

v iii

List of Figures




Introduction to the Problem


Background of the Study


Statement of the Problem


Purpose of the Study




Framework for Document Control Analysis


Research Questions


Significance of the Study


Definition of Terms






Nature of the Study


Organization of the Remainder of the Study




Historical Overview of Prisons in America


General Recidivism

2 4

Nexus Between Prison Programs and Recidivism



Advantage of Educating Inmates


Disadvantage of Educating Inmates


Educational Prison - based Programs


Distant/ Online Instruction


Courses Offered at Correctional Institutions


Instructiona l Staff Issues


Examples of State Educational Opportunities


Rehabilitative Prison Programs


General Findings


Intensive Behavior Therapy Unit


General Findings from Prison - based Programs






Statement of the Problem


Research Questions


Research Methodology


Population and Sampling Procedures


Research Design


Sources of Data (qualitative)






Basis for Document Selection Proc edures


Content Analysis Procedures





Ethical Considerations








Research Questions




Results and Analysis of Extensive Monographs


Integration o f Current Results with Non - empirical Research








Summary of the Study











1 61


List of Tables

Table 1. List of Journals Surveyed in Database Searchers


Table 2. Bo oks and Monographs Identified in Literature Review


Table 3. Government Documents, State and Federal


Table 4. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Articles on Primary Type of Program


Table 5. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Articles on Program S etting


Table 6. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Articles on Program Focus


Table 7. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Articles on Type of Program


Table 8. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Articles on Sample Size


Table 9. Content Analysi s: Empirically - based Articles on Recidivism Rate


Table 10. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Articles on Post - Release Timeframe


Table 11. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Articles on Primary Conceptual Framework


Table 12. Content Analysis: Em pirically - based Articles on Statistical Procedures


Table 13. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Articles on Outcome (dependent) Variable


Table 14. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Research Articles on Recidivism and Educational Programs


Tabl e 15. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Research Articles on Recidivism and Vocational Programs


Table 16. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Research Articles on Recidivism and Drug Programs



Table 17.

Content Analysis: Empirically - based Research Articles on Recidivism, Correctional Education, Life - Skills, Technology Programs


Table 18. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Research Articles on Recidivism, Moral and Cognitive Programs


Table 19. Conte nt Analysis: Empirically - based Research Articles on Recidivism and Therapeutic Programs


Table 20. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Research Articles on Recidivism, Faith - based, and Rehabilitation Programs


Table 21. Content Analysis: Empirically - ba sed Review Articles on Recidivism and Educational Programs


Table 22. Content Analysis: Empirically - based Review Articles on Recidivism, Drug Abuse, and Cognitive Programs


Table 23. Content Analysis: Government Documents on the Topic of Recidivism, Ed ucational, and Employment Programs


Table 24. Content Analysis: Government Documents on the Topic of GED and Recidivism


Table 25. Content Analysis: Government Documents on the Topic of substance Abuse, Life Skills, and Drug Treatment Programs



List of Figures

Figure 1. Schematic Flow Chart of Literature Review Process




Introduction to the Problem

Rehabilitation of former inmates in their adjustment into a normal life style is a

key function of prison incarnation (Zamble & Quinsey, 1997). Prison based educational programs remain contentious issues in society even to this day. There are a number of Americans who think that providing inmates with an education is a right that they a re not entitled to; however, it is clear that literacy no longer ends with high school completion and in order for inmates to be competitive upon their release from prison they need the experience and knowledge that self - improvement provides (Haney, 2006).

According to Steurer (2001)

in order to be successful in today‘s world, inmates should take advantage of self - improvement programs offered by correctional institutions. Moreover, i nmates will need to acquire literacy skills beyond math, reading and writin g to successfully adjust to a challenging social and specialty - focused job environment. On the other hand, some Americans claim that education or retraining is beyond the scope of the responsibility of the prison system or society as a whole (Haney, 2006).

Prior research has shown that inmates who complete prison - based educational programs adapt better to life outside prison post - incarnation. Thus, prison programs could produce a positive impact on the reduction of recidivism rates.

Recidivism could be a cr itical issue in the rehabilitation process and the term needs to have a universal meaning in the field of corrections. Perhaps recidivism might b e defined as the propensity of a convicted inmate to re - offend after their release from a correctional facility

or rehabilitation program. The legal outcome is usually a charge of violation of parole and


ultimately re - incarceration. Undoubtedly, a major goal of inmate rehabilitation should be r educing the probability of recidivism, and thus the threat and monetary costs to society.

The costs to society could total over $200 million a year in re - housing ex - convicts (Beck & Harrison, 2006).

When the costs of accredited correctional education are compared to the cost of keeping inmates behind bars without any opportun ities for self - improvement, the results support the funding of correctional education of inmates. The majority of inmates enter prison with an eighth - grade level of education or cut (Batchelder & Pippert 2002; Behan, 200 7). According to Haulard (2001)

reha bilitation has an integrated relationship with the r emediation of prisoners due to their inability to read at the first and second - grade levels while their math abilities are at the twelfth - grade level. The amount of time that needs to be invested in order

to obtain these results can be considerable.

This research design does not take any a priori view on ultimate conclusions based on this document content analysis. Findings of prior studies on recidivism and the efficacy of prison - based programs are reported as sole investigations. Extensive reviews of the literature on each of these two

issues have bee n conducted, bu t the relationship between the two

issues has provided disparate findings. Moreover, these studies vary widely in terms of type of prison program, goal of the program, length of program, characteristics of types of participating inmates, fun ding, training - level of program instructors and a variety of study design and statistical analysis approaches. Therefore, this research(er) will not know the conclusions until after the content analysis is conducted and completed. Once specific connections

between independent and dependent can be determined, only then can the durability of conclusions be affirmed .


Background of the Study

I mportance of offering inmates an opportunity for self - improvement is based on the reali ty that there are an estimated 1 million or more inmates currently incarcerated in the U.S. (Beck & Harrison, 2006) .

S econdly, taxpayers‘ money is being used as an investment that pretends to reduc e

the number of inmates who recidivate upon release. Indeed, newspapers and the national ne ws report serious crimes occurring locally, nationally, and worldwide. Therefore, it is no wonder that citizens are weary of walking alone and find the need to install home alarms due to the possibility of becoming a victim or crime statistic. The perpetra tors of these crimes apparently do not care who they victimize (e.g., boys, men, women, people of color, the young, or the aged) or the ultimate impact of their aberrant actions on their victims (Gadsden, 2003).

There are some who believe that correctiona l institutions are purely designed as a place to prevent disobedience. When an inmate disobeys the rules or regulations of the facility, the discipline can be indiscriminate and rigid. The ―punishment‖ can consist of removing personal items from inmates, h arsh treatment, and no cable TV, only wearing prison clothes, the inability to earn money, and not being able leave

to their cells. This institutional behavior starts the moment an inmate enters the cor rectional facility (Sumner, 2002 ).

Prison education m ust be presented in a format that is different from mainstream educational programs. The educational program for inmates cannot be a duplication of the curriculum of community schools nor

as delivering one of mass treatment. As with any correctional facili ty, the conditions can often be resistant to the self - improvement and self - efficacy of its occupants. However, within the prison culture there needs to be an


atmosphere that is appropriate for learning to occur within such a diverse environment (Anonymous,


Postsecondary educat ional opportunities for

incarcerated adults range from undergraduate

degrees, graduate degrees ,

and certificate programs. ―Self - improvement‖ through college degrees is anticipated to furnish inmates with the necessary skills to enable them to acquire employment in entry - level positions based on their chosen degree path. When an inmate enrolls in a corrections degree program, it is expected that upon completing the program, he should be able to expound on the modus - operandi of the

criminal justice system (WorldWideLearn, n.d.).

Kirshstein and Best (1996), reported in 20 out of 40 states, Adult Basic Education (ABE) and GED Preparation Courses were offered at every correctional facility within each state. An average of 62% of corr ectional facilities within the 11 states offered high school coursework to inmates. According to the survey conducted by Kirshstein and Best (1996), only 43 states responded to the 1992 Survey of State Adult Correctional Education Agencies. Out of the 43 s tates that did respond, 38 reported offering postsecondary education to incarcerated adults.

In 2000, the Florida

Corrections Commission reported that for the Fiscal Year

1993 - 94 they had a combined return of $1.66 for every $1.00 invested on the educational attainment of

inmates. The

highest return was in the area of academic completers with the next highest in high - tech

completers. Further, t he report indicated

that ―few major disciplinary reports were issued on inmates who were enrolled in educa tional courses. For FY 1995 - 96, 684 major disciplinary reports were issued per 1,000 inmates who were


enrolled in educational courses as compared to 917 major disciplinary reports per 1,000 of the remaining inmate population‖ (Florida Corrections Commissio n, 2000, p. 3).

Currently, there has been a reduction in the number of inmates who participate in self -

improvement courses compared to those taking courses in the 1990s

(Schmalleger & Smykla, 2009) . T he decline in inmates who participate in educational op portunities is considerable in federal correctional institutions and slightly less so for state facilities. Moreover, the decline

in enrollment in self - improvement courses is less than that for vocational training. Therefore , it is no surprise that inmates

with less education are the ones who enroll in ―both‖ self - improvement courses.

As reported by T racy, Smith, and Steurer (1998)

institutions are not interested in conducting research on the value or detriment of prison - based educational programs that cou ld have an effect on recidivism. However, there are some compelling problems that institutions can encounter, which include working in areas where safeguards are required to be in place, the constant turnover of prison populations, and discharging and puni tive actions

(Tracy, Smith, & Steurer, 1998).

Statement of the Problem

It is not known which specific factors contribute to successful program or to what degree these variables contribute to failed programs. In 2000, nearly 90% of federal, state, and private prisons provided incarcerated individuals‘ access to educational services. According t o Schmalleger and Smykla (2009)

nearly 89% of correctional facilities offer prisoners‘ access to educational services. Klein, Tolbert, Bugari n, Cataldi, and Tausc hek (2004)

concluded that federal prisons endeavor to provide inmates their


GED and college degrees as opposed to state or private institutions. The societal issue is whether financing educational programs for inmates while institutionalized are c ost - effec tive and advantageous.

C orrectional system in the U.S. is faced with pressures from political and social groups concerning funding self - improvement courses for inmates (Beck & Harrison, 2006). Moreover, society faces several major challenges that reside in

the criminal justice system: a) prison overcrowding, b) re - offense by former inmates, i.e., recidivism, and c) high cost of incarceration (Parker, 2007). If these high impact factors could be identified through further study, then educational and rehabil itation programs could be designed to lead to positive outcomes for former inmates after release. Thus, several concomitant effects of such interventions would be

a decrease in recidivism rates, lower c osts for maintaining prisoners, and an overall reducti on in crime rat es. Th is

current study plans to address the

void in the literature.

Purpose of the Study

Purpose of this study is to determine to what extent educating inmates reduces recidivism. Although the research base

on the issue of the relationship between prison - based programs and recidivism is rather vast, researchers have not analyzed and synthesized the extant

literature for determining what factors differentiate successful versus failed prison programs.

With 1,4 04.053 individuals in correctional facilities throughout the U.S., it is import to ascertain what makes prison - based programs successful or unsuccessful (Pew Center for the States, 2010). R emediation of prisoners needs to be the first step in prepar ing inm ates

for educational opportunities. Th is


remediation process needs to be associated with increasing inmates‘

cognitive abilities , particularly in reading and math . C urrently, prisoners who enter correctional settings tend to function on a first and second grade level in th ese academic areas , which further compounds the problem of providing a proper level of educational training?

Furthermore, p risoners who have committed violent crimes normally receive longer sentences and ,

thus ,

are more amenable to earning

their GED or participat ing in college courses

(Lanaghan, 1998) .

Therefore, a critical review of the literature should provide insights into what types of instructional programs work and what specific factors contribute to failed programs and, ultimately, poor adaptation to a productive social life for former inmates. Rehabilitation programs for inmates in correctional institutions need to provide optimal educational opportunities, using corrective and educational methods that have proven to be successful. Haulard (2001) concluded that both t he amount of prior education and the education an inmate receives while in the correctional system can affect recidivism rates. Correctional instruction needs to be conducted in an educational environment that is designe d and formulated on the most restrictive environment that a prison can provide, one wherein the inmate can take advantage of any of the correctional settings‘ self - improvement programs and address factors that s upport individualized learning. Accord ing to Beck and Harrison (2006)

i ncreased

educational attainment generally is associated with increased income, even among those with relatively low cognitive skills. Moreover, increased revenue is associated with a diminished incidence in crime. This can be expl ained because people choose between committing crimes and obtaining

employment. R isks associated with committing crimes are larger when having a job pays more, or getting a job is easier. As a result, deciding to commit a crime is a


less appealing option to those who could earn more money with a leg al job (Brunner, 1993).

Several factors have been identified that can have a dramatic impact on the reported efficacy of educational programs in prison. When researching correctional education, it is e ssential to

critically assess every aspect of educational programs available for inmates‘ self - improvement. This

assessment is necessary to avoid generalizing educational opportunities to a ―one educational method fits all‖ category. Inmates, like other in dividuals, have varying

academic levels; thus it is important to predetermine an inmate‘s academic abilities for proper placement in a self - improvement program. Wolf - Harlow (2003) reported that a mong inmates with a disability — such as limiting condition, di fficulty seeing or hearing, a specific learning

disability , speech or physical disability, or a mental or emotional condition — about 44%

did not complete

high school or earn a GED. T hirty - seven percent of those without a disability also did not complete hig h school

or earn a GED . Two - thirds of the inmates with a learning disability and 6 in 10 with a speech disability did not complete 12 th

grade or a GED . To this end, proper placement should remove barriers (e. g., correct placement of inmates based on their level of comprehension and abilities) and ensure inmates‘ success in educational

opportunities while in prison (Holt, 1984).

This study will review the published literature on educational programs in U.S. correctional facilities and analyze availa ble empirical data and qualitative review summaries in order to understand the influence of demographic, confounding variables, and specific characteristics of programs on the reduction of recidivism rates.



Research for this document content an alysis is available from documents such as journal articles , books, book chapters, and government documents on the topic were also included.


obtained from the extant literature should provide for understand ing and appreciat ing

the unique challenge s of inmates, determine the appropriateness of the findings, review empirically - based data, highlight shortcomings ,

note limitations, integrate conclusions, and predict recommendations for future study.

M ajority of inmates enter correctional facilities wit h an eighth - grade education or less. This fact is important not just for prison officials and policy makers but also educational personnel who teach in prisons. Currently, there is no prison - based research methodology that assimilates a true experimental d esign that involves subject randomization or the utilization of controls. I nmates who test at the lowest academic levels have been singled out by some states in order to ensure that they are served with the appropriate individualized instruction

necessary for academic success . Undoubtedly, this approach poses several concerns and challenges for both the inmates and c orrectional officials. For example: W hat level of education

is appropriate for the inmate? H ow much time is needed to ascertain the appropriate p lacement? H ow much individualized instructions

will an individual inmate require?

What is the optimal level of instruction for each inmate (Ershler, 1983).

P risons in Virginia, as well as other states, are require d to offer inmates a variety of programs and services in order to provide them with opportunities to utilize free time for positive personal growth. Moreover, some s tates offer prison inmates various opportunities for self - improvement

including earning a General Educational


Developmen t (GED) certificate, various college degrees, vocational training, as well as technical proficiency in instruction . M ajority of federal, state, and private prisons do , in fact, provide some form

of educational opportunities to inmates, with federal facilit ies providing a w ider range of correctional education al services . However, a pproximately half of the current population of inmates serving time in federal and state prisons lack any adult basic education (ABE). At the same time, some inmates take advantage

of college course

offerings , vocational training, or


a GED after being incarcerated. Batchelder and Pippert (2002) reported that pr isoners who have been identified as requiring the most educational opportunities are female , people of color, and juven ile

delinquents . Moreover, these populations are most likely to be willing to participate in self - improvement program s .

I ssue of prison - based programs impact on recidivism rates of former correctional inmates has been a part of the contention of whether o r not to offer educational programs. This issue has garnered equivocal results in the literature dating back decades and continues to baffle educators, policy - makers, and correctional leadership. Regardless of the inability of policy makers to determine if

there is an impact on recidivism when an inmate earns a college degree or certificate, Gehring (2000) argued that emphasis should be consistently placed on the educational operation of correctional missions: to assist in

prepar ing prisoners or wards of th e state for successful community life. Basis of correctional programs should be rehabilitation and job - related goals. In addition, the role of all correctional personnel

should be to improve the educational development of prisoners or youth who are in cont act with the juvenile justice system.


A National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) study conducted in 2006 revealed data that 43% of individuals who have the lowest literacy skills live in poverty. Data on percentage of individuals functioning at the lowest le vel of literacy indicate that 70% of them are not employed either full or part - time. When literacy becomes a barrier for inmates, it is recommended that they take a course in English as a second language or beginning reading courses; such didactic instruct ion is necessary because the courses greatly improve reading skills, comprehension, and foster progression into more advanced literacy coursework. This process should enable inmates, who do not possess a GED, to acquire the necessary skills to earn their h igh school diploma.

There is some contention concerning the use of computer assisted instruction (CAI) with undereducated prisoners. A ccording to Batchelder (2000)

skeptics are suggesting the utilization of stronger controls on the management of CAI as compared to traditional instructional methods. As a result, institutional studies that have tried to compare computer - assisted instruction (CAI) with traditional ins truction are inconclusive (Spivey, 1992).

R esearch design will consist of a document content analysis. As reported by Krippendorff (2004)

document content analysis adds new insights and improves a researcher‘s appreciation and understanding of the i nter - relationship between 2 variables or issues. In this dissertation, the research will report general conclusions regarding the efficacy of prison - based educational programs based solely on a critical content document analysis of the findings garnered fr om the extant literature. Document content analysis provides an effective framework to examine a vast pool of research publications


and bibliographic sources in order to conduct a detailed and rigorous review of the literature to address specific research questions.

I ssue of ethical considerations has been considered for this study. According to

Leslie (2003)

access to prisoners has been difficult for researchers. There is difficulty associated with the general public gaining ac cess to correctional facilit ies (Leslie, 2003).

Some of the difficulties in doing a national study of the impact of education on incarcerated persons are

( a) state pri son officials are reluctant to grant interviews for years — whether as part of the general public conducting research or just arbitrary enforcement of questionable

guidelines; ( b)

t he courts of the U . S .

do not consider access to prisoners a con stitutional right; (c) t here is no provision in the First Amendment that supports access to p risoners by the general public; and ( d) the First Amendment does state that the government has the right to deny such access by the general public to conduct research (Leslie, 2003).

Framework for Document Content Analysis

Rationale to conduct a document content analysis on these topical i ssues serves to address the importance of prior findings on predicting whether prison educational programs are indeed efficacious. Research studies retrieved from bibliographical searches will be critically reviewed, analyzed and evaluated to address the r esearch questions posed in this dissertation. Literature included as part of this topical review dates from 1980 to 2010.

Since this dissertation will be an extensive document content analysis, several systematic factors set the framework for the research process. First, according to the


Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a dissertation utilizing a document content analysis review format consist of the following : (a) f ocus of a document content analysis review is to summarize and s ynthesize the arguments and ideas of others; (b) varied number of

sources ; (c) types of sources (books, journal articles, and websites) ; (d) summari ze, synthesize, or critique

sources by discussing a common theme or issue ; ( e) evaluation of sources ; (f) su bheadings and other background information, such as d efinitions and/or a history; and (g)

contain at least three basic elements , that is

an introduction or background information section; the body of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, fi nally, a conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper.

M ajor focus of the current research concerns the impact of educational programs on inmates upon recidivism rates

once these inmates are released. S tudy focuses

on two major topical areas: (a) recidivism rates and (b)

educational prison - based programs. Secondly, the initial task is to identify and critically review the literature in these two extensive topic areas that have bibliographic basic sources, empirical based articles, scholarly books, and government documents.

This extensive review identified approximately 100 authoritative references in the areas of recidivism and prison - based educational programs. This review will evaluate the research based across thr ee categories

to include, empirical based studies , qualitative/conceptual studies , and

government documents.

Content analysis is possibly one of the most significant research methods in the social sciences (Krippendorff, 2004). Recently, content analysis h as been utilized in the field of health education (Austin & Graber, 2007) and teacher education (Chitiyo &


Harmon, 2009). Moreover, document analysis methodologies have been utilized in criminal just ice investigations (e.g., Aunshu l, 2008; Ditullio, 1986).

Analyzing research documents in the context of their conclusions, inferences, and generalizations separates content analysis from other procedures of investigations. Moreover, content analysis has evolved into a proven investigative technique in quantitat ive research. In this regard, ―objectivity‖ is a central part and goal of content analysis and provides an explanatory of the relationship between variables or constructs that avoids any possible bias or confounding factors in research investigation. Final ly, content analysis summaries and synthesis data sets of research results

were provided . This is consistent with the nomothetic approach to scientific studies, whose purpose is to generate conclusions of inquiry findings.

Full document contains 194 pages
Abstract: This study was an analysis and synthesis of the existing research on prison-based rehabilitative programs and their positive or negative impact on recidivism rates. This study utilizes qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methodologies. This study is a qualitative research in nature in that the analysis of research findings is based on the individual interpretations of this researcher. However, the majority of the data set is quantitative in nature in that much of the findings are based on varied empirical studies on the effect(s) of prison-based rehabilitation programs might have on recidivism. This study will also utilize a mixed method approach. Purpose of this study is to add to the current research on prison-based rehabilitation programs in order to ascertain if offering inmates' rehabilitation programs reduces recidivism rates. This study added to the base of knowledge on prison-based rehabilitation of inmates in local, federal, and state prisons and the feasibility of future research on this subject.