Education in American prisons : a review of the literature

Ryan McNamara, California State University, Monterey Bay

Capstone Project (B.A.) Liberal Studies Department


The purpose of this study is to understand how education programs in prison can benefit both prisoners and society in an America with a perennially rising prison population comprised of less educated individuals and budget cuts on education programs within prisons. The study includes a history of prisons in the United States from the pre-revolution English colonies to the present day, a theoretical perspective emphasizing education's ability to rehabilitate as noted by Ubah (2003), and a current research section analyzing studies from 2005-2010. The findings indicate a correlation with participation in educational programs in prison with reduced recidivism rates, an improvement in the environment of the prisons themselves, and an increased likelihood of the children of prisoners becoming educated along with other positive outcomes. This study displays the importance of higher education in prison juxtaposed with a depiction of how hard it is to implement a college program within prison walls. Also, the impact that facility type in which the prisoner is incarcerated has on the success of education programs is noted. Finally, the study indicates that there is significant value when education programs select prisoners that are incarcerated long enough to finish an education program and are released within a reasonable period of time to use their new skills.