Examining the Black Box of Prison Education Programs: A Descriptive Study of Statewide Correctional Education Practices


  • Amanda Pompoco




About half of incarcerated individuals housed in state prisons reported participation in educational or vocational programming (Harlow, 2003). These programs serve as a way to fill a disparity gap since the prison population tends to have literacy, education, and employment needs. Participation in education programs can result in positive impacts on reentry outcomes (e.g., reduced recidivism, increased employment outcomes) (Bozick et al., 2018). However, the characteristics of effective education programs remains a “black box” in terms of instructional strategies and classroom practices. This study examined the characteristics of over 200 literacy, general education, vocation/apprenticeship, and college courses across 28 prisons in one state. Interviews, observations, and staff surveys were used to gather data related to leadership, classroom management, and quality assurance practices in prison-based education departments. The results revealed substantial differences across programs and facilities. Implications for future research and opportunities to reduce social disparity through prison education are discussed.