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In-prison education and recidivism: A narrative inquiry on the impact of in-prison education on former inmates in the state of Texas

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Matthew Thomas King
Abstract:
America's prisons are currently home to over 2.3 million inmates, making the American prison system the largest in the world. What is most impressive about this figure is the fact that China (population 1,321,851,888) has three times the population of the United States (301,139,947), but only 1.5 million inmates. Similarly, the state of Texas (population 20,851,820) has almost the same population as New York (19,490,297), but has three times the number of inmates with approximately 172,000 inmates in Texas (738,000 when including individuals on probation or parole) and 63,000 in New York. Between 90 and 95 percent of America's and Texas' inmates will eventually be released from prison. Unfortunately for Texas, 30 percent or greater of those released from prison will return. Literature suggests that in-prison education works to reduce recidivism. The purpose of this study is to determine if educational programs offered in Texas prisons are positively impacting inmates upon release. Using interviews and narrative inquiry, this qualitative study chronicled the lives of ten former Texas inmates with various backgrounds, levels of education obtained, gender, and race. From the interviews, narratives were written which depicted the former inmates' lives prior to, during, and after incarceration to the present day. From each unique narrative, the researcher identified themes that assisted the researcher in determining if the former inmate-students' perspective of in-prison education is consistent with the existing literature. The researcher concluded that in-prison education significantly worked against factors thought to be pre-determinants of criminal activity (i.e., lack of education, poor family structure, lack of employment, helplessness, and poverty) for the former inmates interviewed for the study. Thus, in-prison education appears to have had a positive impact on the lives of these inmate-students.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgements.........................................................................................................................vi Abstract .........................................................................................................................................vii List of Tables................................................................................................................................ xii List of Figures ............................................................................................................................. xiii Chapter One: Introduction …..……............................................................................................... 1 A. Introduction B. Education in the Prison System C. Problem Statement D. Research Questions E. Definition of Terms F. Significance G. Organization of the Dissertation Chapter Two: Review of Literature ............................................................................................. 12 A. History of In-Prison Education B. In-Prison Education and Recidivism Studies C. Characteristics of the Inmate-Student D. What Motivates an Inmate to Participate in Educational Programs? E. Additional Benefits of In-Prison Education F. Post-Secondary Correctional Education (PSCE) G. In-Prison Education and Recidivism in Texas Chapter Three: History of the Texas Prison System..................................................................... 34 A. Texas Department of Criminal Justice Today B. The Windham School Chapter Four: Methodology.......................................................................................................... 56 A. Research Questions B. Narrative Inquiry C. Researcher Bias

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D. Description of Respondents E. Snowball Sampling F. Instrumentation G. Procedures H. Recording I. Transcription J. Data Analysis K. Limitations Chapter Five: The Experiences of Inmate-Students in the State of Texas................................... 73 A. Interviewee One B. Interviewee Two C. Interviewee Three D. Interviewee Four E. Interviewee Five F. Interviewee Six G. Interviewee Seven H. Interviewee Eight I. Interviewee Nine J. Interviewee Ten Chapter Six: Prison Education from the Professors‘ Perspective………................................... 163 A. Kathryn Paterson B. Dr. Larry Jablecki C. Robin Mina Chapter Seven: Findings and Conclusion …………………………………….......................... 177 A. Findings Primary Research Question Secondary Research Questions B. Additional Findings C. Discussion of Findings D. Overview E. Conclusion

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F. Implications Research Policy and Procedure G. Summary Appendix..................................................................................................................................... 223 Reference List............................................................................................................................. 234 Vita

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LIST OF TABLES

Table 1. Self- Reported Motivations for Program Participation.................................................. 23 Table 2. Percentage Participation in education programs by prison inmates since most recent incarceration, by offense and length of sentence: 1997....................................... 25 Table 3. Interviewee Information………………….……………................................................75 Table 4. Self Reported Benefits of In-Prison Education…....................................................... 213

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LIST OF FIGURES

Figure 1. Benefits Resulting from Prisoner Education…............................................................. 27 Figure 2. TDCJ Organizational Structure………………............................................................. 45 Figure 3. TDCJ Prison Units by Region…………………........................................................... 46 Figure 4. History of Scandals in Private Prisons in Texas………............................................... 48 Figure 5. Windham School District Organizational Chart........................................................... 53

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

The number of inmates housed in federal, state, and local correctional facilities in the United States has risen continuously in recent years (Lawrence, Mears, Dubin, and Travis 2002). Based on a recent study, the United States Department of Justice (2007) stated 2.3 million men and women were incarcerated in prisons or jails in 2007. Ninety percent of incarcerated individuals are not serving life sentences and will be released from prison (Linton 2004, 1). An earlier study by the United States Department of Justice (2002, 1) revealed that in 1994, 67.5 percent of the prisoners were re-arrested for new offenses and 46.9 percent of all inmates released were re-convicted for new crimes within three years. These statistics are significant, because, at least on some level, they suggest a need for improved services or a better approach in America‘s prison system (Larkin, 2001; Waintrup and Unruh 2008, 129). Reform is required, whether in terms of the punishment of inmates for the offense, the rehabilitation of inmates, or the education and remobilization of individuals upon release. In 2006, the state of Texas had the largest prison system in the United States and ranked second only to Louisiana in the number of inmates per capita with Texas at 691 and Louisiana at 846 inmates per 100,000 population (Sabol, Couture, and Harrison 2007, 6). Proposals for new prison/jail facilities and additional beds for older facilities have been included regularly in the budgetary request submitted to the state legislature from the Texas Department of Corrections (Acuña et al. 2007, 1). Overcrowded prisons became such a problem between 1980 and 1990 that

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administrators and prison guards were unable to control the population. In response to this crisis, the Texas state legislature in 1989 approved the issuance of bonds for $400 million to construct 11,000 new prison beds (Gorton 1997, 83). Beard, Johnson, and Kemp (2003, 4) revealed that between the years 1990 and 2000, the Texas prison system increased the number of its adult correctional facilities from 43 to127, almost tripling the number in a ten year period. In addition, as bed space was filled, the capacity for inmates went from 49,000 to 150,000 in only a five year period (1990 to 1995). The state of Texas had 172,116 inmates and approximately 530,000 persons on probation or parole in 2006 (Glaze and Bonczar 2007; Sabol, Couture, and Harrison 2007). Sabol, Couture, and Harrison (2007, 2) noted that the inmate population of Texas at the end of 2006 is more than double the population of any other state with the exception of California. When including individuals on probation (431,967) or parole (101,916), the Texas Department of Corrections had a total of 705,999 individuals under state correctional control in 2006. Another statistic that highlights the magnitude of the size of the Texas prison system is that although Texas and the state of New York have almost the same number of residents, Texas (172,116) has nearly triple the number of individuals incarcerated as New York (63,315). When legislators and administrators consider methods to reduce the growth of the inmate population and the billions of dollars spent adding beds to current prison facilities or building new prisons, they should realize that provision of rehabilitation and reduction in recidivism are critical factors. The reported rate of recidivism for Texas inmates varies among studies (depending on the time-frame of the research); however, the average is approximately 30 percent (Fabelo 2000, 1).

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Of importance for the purpose of this study is that approximately 30 percent of Texas inmates re-offend (Fabelo 2000, 1) and, therefore, re-offenders represent a significant portion of the inmates accounted for in the Texas prison system. According to Beard, et al. (2003, 1), the percentage of inmates re-offending is reduced dramatically when inmates receive an education while incarcerated. Most strikingly, the state of Texas reported the extraordinary recidivism impact of postsecondary education in a two year study (Tracey and Johnson 1994, 6). Tracey and Johnson (1994) revealed that the recidivism rate for inmates obtaining a college degree at any level (associate‘s degree or higher) was 12 percent, less than one-half that of those who do not earn a degree. More specifically, inmates obtaining an associate‘s degree recidivated at a 13.7 percent rate; inmates achieving a bachelor‘s degree recorded recidivism at 5.6 percent; and inmates achieving a master‘s degree recidivated at less than one percent (Tracey and Johnson 1994, 7). Based on the statistics provided, there may be a direct correlation between education, or lack thereof, and the problem of recidivism. This research examines the reasons why correctional education appears to have a positive effect on recidivism in the state of Texas, as reported by Tracey and Johnson (1994). Several studies (Fabelo 1996; Gaither 1982; Gehring and Muth 1985) focus on the theoretical underpinnings of recidivism and potential ways to reduce it, but this researcher is interested in exploring the impact on recidivism from the former inmates‘ personal perspectives. Few studies attempt to gain perspective from the inmates‘ personal experiences or their points of view. This research sought the perspective of the inmates that have been involved in education programs while incarcerated in Texas prisons. The researcher was especially interested in learning from the inmates the following: a) previous educational experiences; b) reasons for

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pursuing an education while incarcerated; c) internal support systems that aided the student- inmates throughout their efforts, and the external support systems that aided the inmate-students; d) obstacles, if any, that the inmate-students encountered in attending college while incarcerated, including peer pressure; e) personal expectations of the program; and f) the degree to which the inmate-student was committed to avoid re-offending, even without correctional education. The researcher attempted to understand whether inmates that are less likely to re-offend choose to take educational classes, i.e. they self-selected, or whether the educational programs positively impact factors that contribute to crime and recidivism. Utilizing narrative inquiry methods, this qualitative study described the Texas inmates‘ perceptions about in-prison education as a whole and the potential benefits of education as a form of rehabilitation. Education in the Prison System Most inmates do not enter the prison system with a high school education (Holloway and Moke 1986; Nuttall, MacDonald and Brandon 1995). Research shows that high school dropout rates for inmates are approximately 80 to 90 percent (Porter and Gilberg-Porter 1984, 1). The high school dropout rates for prison inmates strongly contrast with the most recent study of the National Center for Educational Studies (NCES) (2006). NCES found the national dropout rate for individuals between 16 and 24 years old to be 9.3 percent, which is a significant variation from the dropout rates of prison inmates. Actual high school dropout rates for the state of Texas vary among studies. Story (2007, 1) stated that, ―While the Texas Education Agency has long reported ‘dropout rates‘ of well below five percent, outside researchers have scrutinized these low figures.‖ Story (2007, 1) added ―that most studies conclude that the true dropout rate in Texas is closer to 33 percent.‖ Authors of an analysis by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center estimated there are over 120,000 former public high school students in the state

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of Texas that left school without graduating (Swanson 2006, 1). According to Story (2007, 2), the graduation rate in Texas is approximately 67 percent, which places Texas below the national graduation rate of 69.6 percent, ranking 35th among the states in the United States. Story (2007, 1) reported that high school dropouts face a number of issues not seen by those completing a high school education. Those issues include more health problems, increased financial and social challenges, taxpayer burdens, and increased risks of being incarcerated. Problem Statement

Crime, prison population, and rehabilitation of inmates continue to be fiercely debated policy issues (Stevens and Ward 1997, 106; Gehring 1997, 48). Policymakers differ greatly on how to address these issues, even as problems emanating from them continue to grow. Unfortunately, the average inmate is less educated than a high school graduate. Research supports the theory that in-prison education has positively affected participants as well as society by reducing the number of those who would re-offend. Gendron and Cavan (1990) indicated that removing some of the problems that cause persons to commit crime appears to be an effective method to reduce crime, to halt the increase in the number of inmates, and to rehabilitate individual inmates. According to Wolbers (2000, 187), it is difficult for a citizen to gain employment without education, especially if he or she has the burden of a criminal background and little work experience. Research has shown that improving the educational level of inmates is a key factor in preparing them for re-entry into society and it creates a strong argument for continued in-prison education (Beard et al. 2003; Harer 1995; Holloway and Moke 1986; Slater 1994-1995; Tracy and Johnson 1994). The return on investment in prison education programs can include reduced recidivism, lowered overall prison expenses, enhanced economic benefits to the prison from

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inmate employment, and lowered crime rates for the state of Texas (Erisman and Contardo 2005, 10). Therefore, when considering those findings that support education as a significant component of rehabilitation and a benefit to society, Texas policymakers should pursue further research to reduce recidivism so both crime and the prison population can be reduced. In addition, Texas legislator‘s should make efforts to determine which, if any, pre-incarceration factors contributed to the in-prison education experience, and how the Windham School District (WSD) and other in-prison educational programs have affected the future careers, educational goals, and successes of inmate-students. Research Questions

The primary intent of this study was to acquire the perspective of former prison inmates in the state of Texas on the educational policy and program for prisoners. The study focused on inmates that have achieved an education while incarcerated in the Texas penal system. In order to gain this unique perspective on the subject matter, the researcher sought the narratives of the former inmate-students and correctional instructors. These subjects provided a point of view on the issues that cannot be captured with any other research approach. To understand fully the in-prison education experience from the perspective of the inmate-student, the researcher examined the following questions: Primary Research Questions : What are key elements that lead individuals to pursue education while incarcerated and does the experience of receiving that education positively impact factors which are believed to lead to criminal activity? Secondary Research Questions : What factors prompt an inmate to enroll in prison education programs?

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How do prior educational and employment experiences affect inmate-students‘ motivation? What are the difficulties inmates face as they attempt to balance penal system culture and education, particularly among other inmates and prison staff? Specifically, do inmates who are not participating in correctional education have positive, negative, or neutral effect or impact on those who do? For those who have experienced in-prison education in the state of Texas, what are their personal opinions of the programs offered and what improvements (if any) are recommended for the existing programs? Definition of Terms For the purposes of this study, the following definitions were used (Hall 2006, 9; Gardner 2004, 12):  Adult basic education (ABE): an education program designed to provide basic skills (math, reading, and writing) to the adult learner.  CHANGES (Changing Habits and Achieving New Goals to Empower Success): A 60-day life skills program designed to prepare offenders for release in the Texas prison system.  Completers: inmates who have successfully completed some level of education (GED or above) while incarcerated.  Federal aid: money received by the federal government for funding an educational program (or other program, as determined by the federal government).  General Equivalency Diploma (GED): an alternative to the high school diploma, the GED certifies that the student has the basic skills required for the completion of grade 12

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of high school. The GED course is one that prepares adult students for taking the GED test to determine on which grade level an adult student performs.  Incarceration: confinement to a penal institution while awaiting trial for an offense or as punishment for an offense.  In-prison education: educational classes and/or training within the penal institution (prison).  Literacy: the ability to read and write to function in society.  Non-completer: inmates who have not successfully completed some level of education (GED or above) while incarcerated.  Offender: one who commits one or more crimes.  Offense: any infraction of the law warranting arrest and incarceration.  Parole: community supervision after a period of incarceration.  PEP: Prison Entrepreneurship Program- a Texas prison program that links business and academic talent with program participants through an MBA-level curriculum, mentor relationships and entrepreneurship.  Penitentiary, prison, penal institution, and correctional institution will be used interchangeably; these terms refer to the facility where prisoners live, work, and take educational courses while incarcerated.  Post-Secondary Education: The level of education following the completion of high school or obtaining a General Equivalency Diploma (GED).  Prison instructor: a teacher or instructor who teaches in a prison setting.  Prisoner: one who has been remanded to a penitentiary/prison/correctional institution as punishment for a criminal conviction.

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 Probation: court-ordered community supervision of convicted offenders by a probation agency. In many instances, the supervision requires adherence to specific rules of conduct while in the community.  Recidivism: return to a penal institution as a result of commission of an additional criminal offense or violation of conditions of parole.  State Reimbursable Cost: A state program that pays the total cost of the offender‘s vocational coursework and the initial academic course each semester. However, the offender must repay the costs upon his or her release from prison.  Vocational education: programs focused on training adults to perform a specific task (ex: welding, pipe fitting, farming) in preparation for performing that task on a job site.  Windham School District: an independent school district established by the Texas Legislature to provide academic, as well as career and technological education, to eligible offenders incarcerated within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Significance Each year, approximately 700,000 inmates are released from either a federal or state prison system (Schirmer 2008, 23). Few inmates are equipped with the basic tools needed to integrate successfully into society. Common traits among Texas inmates, such as little or no education, social disorders, and drug addictions, often make such a process more difficult. The researcher believes that it is important as a matter of public policy to identify measures that reduce recidivism so that both crime and the prison population can be reduced. Studies cited above have shown that the majority of inmates lack a high school education. A complicating factor is that the average Texas inmate has an Intelligence Quotients (IQ) of 87 with only a sixth grade education, as pointed out earlier (Hendricks, Hendricks, and Kauffman 2001, 2). The

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Hendricks, Hendricks, and Kauffman (2001) finding is also significant to this study, because it demonstrates the limited opportunity of Texas inmates able to obtain education, to those with higher IQ‘s and the ability to achieve higher levels of education. As Story (2007, 2) reported, high school dropouts face or create a number of issues not seen by those completing a high school education. Those issues include more health problems, decreased opportunity for employment, increased financial and social challenges, taxpayer burdens, and increased risk of going to jail. The researcher previously identified in this research that Texas has the largest prison system in the United States (Hall 2003, 4-5). Additionally, this study has provided evidence from previous studies that education positively affects recidivism; however, the bulk of money spent on prisons goes towards maintenance of order in prisons- not rehabilitation or education. Several states in the United States are spending billions of dollars each year on correction facilities, but little is spent on long term solutions to keep offenders in our society from returning to prison once released (Schirmer 2008, 24). One study showed that most (77 percent) of Texas inmates desired to complete their education if given the opportunity and even more (99 percent) planned to finish or obtain a high school education in prison or upon release if given the opportunity (Porter and Porter 1984, 81). Organization of the Dissertation

This dissertation is organized into seven chapters and supporting appendices. It documents the results of a qualitative narrative inquiry on the impact of in-prison education on the lives of former Texas inmates. Specifically, the study sought the inmate-students‘ perspective on whether or not in-prison education was central to their eventual success or lack of success once they were released from prison.

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Chapter One will serve as an introductory chapter which provides the problem statement, describes the significance of the study, includes a definition of terms. Chapter Two contains a review of the literature relevant to the study. The literature review documents previous findings of in-prison education and recidivism in the United States and in Texas. In addition, this chapter provides an overview of the impact made by in-prison education in general and by the Windham School District and associated educational programs in particular. Chapter Three provides a history of the Texas prison system beginning with the first prison built and to today‘s prison system. Chapter Four describes the methodology used for the research. It provides a review of narrative inquiry and includes descriptions of the role of the researcher, research questions, data collection and analysis, as well as validity and ethical considerations. Chapter Five presents the narratives produced from the interviews with the former inmate-students. This chapter includes a description of the study setting, participants, and descriptive quotes and commentary to accompany each narrative. The narratives of the former inmate-student detail their lives prior to, during, and after their incarceration. In addition, the chapter provides the former inmates‘ perception of the educational programming offered in Texas prisons and how they benefited from those programs. Chapter Six introduces the narratives of the prison instructors. These narratives provide detail on what motivated him or her to teach at prison units, their experiences teaching inmates, their perspective on the effectiveness of the programs, and suggestions they have for improving current prison programs. Chapter Seven serves as conclusion to the study. This chapter relates findings of this study with previous literature, discusses further implications of these findings for correctional education, and provides suggestions for further research.

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CHAPTER TWO

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

This chapter focuses on previous studies that have examined the impact of in-prison education on former prisoners once they have been released. The primary focus of the dissertation is on former inmates that have earned an education (GED, vocational certification, associate‘s degree, bachelor‘s degree, or master‘s degree) while incarcerated in the Texas prisons. In order to understand the impact of this achievement by former inmates, this chapter presents several subjects relevant to the study that serve as background for the research. To begin, the researcher presents a brief history of in-prison education in the United States, so that the programs in Texas prisons may be considered in the context of a national phenomenon. The next section discusses previous research on education in the prison system, since it directly pertains to the subject of this study. In addition, this chapter describes characteristics of the inmate-student and what motivates him or her to attend correctional education classes. The chapter also describes additional benefits beyond low recidivism rates; and descriptions of successful in-prison education programs in other facilities in the United States. Finally, this chapter concludes with research relevant to in-prison education and recidivism, but specific to the state of Texas. History of In-Prison Education Whether inmates should even be allowed to participate in college education programs continues to be disputed, according to Stevens and Ward (1987, 106). The field of corrections

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has been polarized by those that view penal systems as a means to seek punishment and retribution, while others seek to rehabilitate inmates and prepare them to be law-abiding citizens. However, most scholars agree that rehabilitation is one of the fundamental purposes of the penitentiary (Kerper 1972, 64). Efforts to use education as a form of rehabilitation have become increasingly popular among prison systems and, according to many scholars, in-prison education has positive results on the rehabilitation of former inmates (Slater 1994-1995, 103; Harer 1995, 99). The history of in-prison education compares to that of penitentiaries themselves and offers significant insight to this research. Education programs in United States prisons dates back to the 1700‘s. In 1790, the Pennsylvania Quakers established the Walnut Street jail to punish those who broke the law (Warburton 1993). The jail was originally established to reform prisoners, and, in so doing, provided the inmates with the opportunity to learn the Bible and repent for their wrong-doings (Hall 2006; Gerber and Fritsch 1983). The goal was to allow the inmates to rehabilitate themselves through repentance. In addition, inmates were provided limited secular education, including reading and writing education, to ensure that they were able to understand religious literature. Zebulon Brockway, the first warden of Elmira Reformatory in New York, felt that inmates could be reformed into law-abiding citizens through education programs. He eventually established what some believe to be the first instance of higher learning in American prisons (Larkin 2001, 19). The first known attempt to reform inmates through education of any kind took place under Brockway‘s guidance when he allowed capable educators to teach inmates basic subjects such as reading, writing, and math (Gehring and Muth, 1985). By 1801, inmates in good standing were rewarded with an elementary education and well-educated inmates were allowed

Full document contains 259 pages
Abstract: America's prisons are currently home to over 2.3 million inmates, making the American prison system the largest in the world. What is most impressive about this figure is the fact that China (population 1,321,851,888) has three times the population of the United States (301,139,947), but only 1.5 million inmates. Similarly, the state of Texas (population 20,851,820) has almost the same population as New York (19,490,297), but has three times the number of inmates with approximately 172,000 inmates in Texas (738,000 when including individuals on probation or parole) and 63,000 in New York. Between 90 and 95 percent of America's and Texas' inmates will eventually be released from prison. Unfortunately for Texas, 30 percent or greater of those released from prison will return. Literature suggests that in-prison education works to reduce recidivism. The purpose of this study is to determine if educational programs offered in Texas prisons are positively impacting inmates upon release. Using interviews and narrative inquiry, this qualitative study chronicled the lives of ten former Texas inmates with various backgrounds, levels of education obtained, gender, and race. From the interviews, narratives were written which depicted the former inmates' lives prior to, during, and after incarceration to the present day. From each unique narrative, the researcher identified themes that assisted the researcher in determining if the former inmate-students' perspective of in-prison education is consistent with the existing literature. The researcher concluded that in-prison education significantly worked against factors thought to be pre-determinants of criminal activity (i.e., lack of education, poor family structure, lack of employment, helplessness, and poverty) for the former inmates interviewed for the study. Thus, in-prison education appears to have had a positive impact on the lives of these inmate-students.