Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

  • This strategy can help address educational disparities and provide assistance to unemployed workers. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • Preparing individuals for reintegration: Correctional education programs may offer basic and secondary education to incarcerated adults. By increasing the educational attainment of incarcerated adults, correctional education programs better prepare them for reintegration into their communities. Ultimately, such programs aim to reduce recidivism.

  • Building basic academic skills: Correctional education programs may provide adult basic education (ABE) for incarcerated adults who read below a ninth grade level. ABE focuses on basic math, reading, and writing skills that serve as the foundation for high school-level coursework.

  • Completing secondary education: For those who can read at a ninth grade level or higher, correctional education programs typically offer adult secondary education (ASE). ASE coursework focuses on high school-level skills and generally prepares students for the General Education Development (GED) exam or other high school equivalency credential.

  • Varied approaches to delivering instruction: The format of correctional education programs varies. While many programs offer onsite instruction, where educators conduct classes at a prison or jail, other approaches include distance learning; release programs, where participants take classes at local educational institutions; or software-based programs, which rely on educational software to provide skills instruction. The instruction may be provided by educators employed by the correctional facility, or through an agreement with nearby school districts, community colleges, or other educational institutions.

Cost per Participant
$1,400-$1,744 per person

Multiple studies with rigorous designs provide some evidence for corrections-based basic and secondary education programs as a strategy for reducing recidivism.

  • A 2014 systematic review identified corrections-based adult basic and secondary education as a promising strategy for reducing recidivism.

  • A 2014 meta-analysis found that inmates who participated in a correctional education program were 36 percent less likely to recidivate than their peers who did not participate in an educational program.

  • Develop an evidence-based curriculum: Correctional education programs should use a competency-based curriculum that evaluates student progress based on the learning they can demonstrate instead of their inputs (e.g,. number of course hours). Related approaches, like using formative assessments to inform personalized instruction, also apply to both basic adult education and adult secondary education programs.

  • Leverage online and blended learning: To deliver a wide range of academic instruction in a cost-effective manner, correctional institutions should take advantage of online and blended learning opportunities. By taking this approach, individual jails or prisons can pool resources with partner correctional or educational institutions. However, programs using online and blended learning must provide participants with access to computers and reliable internet.

  • Use an instructional management system: Correctional education programs should adopt an instructional management system to track student data. An effective system would manage students’ transcripts, track performance on formative and summative assessments, note existing educational credentials, and more.

  • Connect instruction to post-secondary opportunities: As with basic and secondary education, individuals who complete post-secondary education while incarcerated are less likely to recidivate than their peers with less education. Correctional education programs can encourage participants to continue their education by providing admissions counseling and removing common barriers to college access, like high application fees and missing documentation (e.g., social security number/card).