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The Effect of Demographics on Low Literacy and Education Levels in the Prison System:

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The Effect of Demographics on Low Literacy and Education Levels in the Prison System:

A Literature Review

by

Ramona Mack

        

The Effect of Demographics on Low Literacy and Education Levels in the Prison System:

A Literature Review

Introduction

        Traditional social science theories usually provide single variable explanations in an attempt to describe extremely complex behaviors (Walters 2014). For example, the behaviors associated with crime have been associated with social disadvantage and family structure, but these attributions have not been correlated. Current theories in crime have attempted to integrate traditional sociological theory with those from psychology, biology, and economics (Walter 2014). The purpose of this study will be to investigate the effect of race, gender, age, and literacy level on the highest level of education attained by prison inmates in the United States correctional system.

The review of literature will examine the education of general population prisoners, social demographics effect on their education, and the literacy rates of prisoners within the United States correctional system. I will attempt in my literature review (a) demonstrates a familiarity with a body of knowledge and establishes credibility, (b) shows the history of prior research and how current research is linked to the study, (c) integrates and summarizes what is known in the area of study, and (d) establishes a method to learn from others and stimulate new ideas. This literature review will provide the variables associated with the framework of the research study, and a review of current findings in the education of prisoner inmates. This review will also provide a balanced discussion of alternative viewpoints regarding research in the field of social demographics of inmates and their education level.

The Correlation between Demographics and Literacy Rates

Education Level

Previous studies have suggested that crime rates are more likely to increase as the quality of education diminishes. More specifically, individuals are found to be more resilient to temptation of illegal tendencies if they have received and completed their high school education (Lochner and Moretti 2003  In the previous decades African Americans have demonstrated a persistent increase in the number people who have not taken advantage of or have not been presented with the ability to receive a higher-level of education (i.e. high school), which has been found to be associated with de-industrialization, residentiary discrimination, and affluent prejudice (Pettit ,Western 2004; and Brown, Rio 2014). It is important, because the level of education one receives and the experience of being imprisoned both have a profound and long-term impact on the rest of an individual’s life. The argument  that individuals are more likely to receive poorer levels of education if they cannot economically sustain themselves, and thus are also more likely to seek out other forms of social acceptance and success that are usually more characteristically detrimental to their future well-being. Such ideas are supported, noting that it is less expensive to provide individuals with a formal education than waiting for a lack thereof to lead them to prison (Nealy 2008). The increasing predicament of illiteracy in prison systems, often includes individuals who receive an EA (Educational Achievement) score of 5.9 or fewer on the standardized TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education) exam, which has shown to be relevant to almost half of some institutions. (Fabelo 2002).  The steadily prevalent issue from 1985 to 2000 increased national expenditures on prison education two-fold, and has continued to rise since then (Nelson 2007). However, recent studies have shown that this despite this increase in prison budgets, at least 30-percent of inmates are still not receiving consistent and adequate education before their release back into society (Brown and Rio 2014).

During the end of the 19th-century as a way for inmates to decrease their sentence, in trade for acts of good behavior and efforts to being a more informed and involved citizen,  criminal facilities began to provided free education to inmates, to combat this on-going issue of illiterate and otherwise poorly educated prisoners (Esperian 2010).  State and national prison systems often provide some form of correctional education that includes formal education (Kindergarten through 12th grade), reading and language, job training, and life skill development courses (Blumberg 2013; and Fabelo 2002,). Other programs have also provided extended education programs that include studies in English, business, technical communications, and anthropological studies from highly experienced educators and consultants (Cantrell 2013). One study on over 100,000 prisoners in a Texas correctional facility, found that 46-percent of their illiterate and nonreader inmates have successfully become functional readers, in which they increased their average EA score by at least two to three points (Cantrell 2013). A similar program, called Florida Ready to Work (FLRTW), found that 53 male prisoners – not readily defined by race or age - increased their EA score by 0.2 points, demonstrating a significant gap among correctional educators (Brown and Rios 2014).  Other studies discuss literacy programs such as the “Read to Success” and the African American Literature Program throughout Washington state, which provide a secondary way in which inmates may be become literate and receive higher education, in which well-educated individuals who are serving long-term sentences are provided with the opportunity to teach fellow inmates how to read and write (Franklin 2000 and Nelson 2007). Though despite these efforts to understand how an inmate’s previous education has an effect on their current literacy rates, such cannot be fully understood without taking into account an individual’s unique characteristics.

Race

        The majority of scholarly literature pertaining to race and prison educational programs discusses the differences between Caucasian and African American individuals, while also demonstrating that Mexican-Americans make up the third largest percent of the U.S. prison system. (Brown and Rio 2014) note that Latino inmates recorded a lower average TABE score than their Caucasian and African American counterparts, which was significantly impacted by their low population count. Meanwhile, studies that demonstrates that there has been a high rate of racial dis-proportionality, particularly among African-American men who have received lower levels of education, which in turn has left a long-standing stereotypical recognition regarding their socio-economic class and racial background. More specifically, these analysis have found that in a national prison population that consisted primarily of men, imprisonment rates were almost eight-fold for African Americans as compared to Caucasians (Nealy 2007). Meanwhile, almost 30-percent of African-American men will be imprisoned during their lifetime; despite this significant difference in incarceration rates, the authors found that all of the inmates averaged no more than 12 years of formal education (Pettit and Western 2004).  It seems that with even a single additional year of education may reduce the likelihood that an person will face imprisonment, where Caucasians may reduce their chances by 10-percent and African Americans may decrease the probability by almost 40-percent (Lochner and Moretti 2003). Due to a lacking educational background, African Americans are more likely to suffer from higher unemployment and imprisonment rates, which is also affected by poor social stigma that has developed over a number of decades. Limited education has often led to a significant amount of the black prison population who are highly illiterate, which in turn has consistently forced individuals to find other [often illegal] means of work beyond the traditional job market (Nealy 2007). In light of such, such programs like Washington’s African American Literature Program have been specifically designed to meet the ethnic specific needs of individuals, which have in part been developed to decrease racial tensions and recidivism throughout prison systems (Nelson, 2007). They have been particularly useful in developing other educational specific programs for other ethnic backgrounds, such as Latino, Asians, and Pacific Islanders. Thus providing a more diverse range of education that may be approached to fit individual needs, which can also be seen in educational programs designed by gender rather than race.

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