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RAND Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education

After conducting a comprehensive literature search, the authors undertook a meta-analysis to examine the association between correctional education and reductions in recidivism, improvements in employment after release from prison, and learning in math and in reading. Their findings support the premise that receiving correctional education while incarcerated reduces an individual’s risk of recidivating. They also found that those receiving correctional education had improved odds of obtaining employment after release. The authors also examined the benefits of computer-assisted learning and compared the costs of prison education programs with the costs of reincarceration.

Key Findings

Correctional Education Improves Inmates’ Outcomes after Release

  • Correctional education improves inmates’ chances of not returning to prison.
  • Inmates who participate in correctional education programs had a 43 percent lower odds of recidivating than those who did not. This translates to a reduction in the risk of recidivating of 13 percentage points.
  • It may improve their chances of obtaining employment after release. The odds of obtaining employment post-release among inmates who participated in correctional education was 13 percent higher than the odds for those who did not participate in correctional education.
  • Inmates exposed to computer-assisted instruction learned slightly more in reading and substantially more in math in the same amount of instructional time.
  • Providing correctional education can be cost-effective when it comes to reducing recidivism.


  • Further studies should be undertaken to identify the characteristics of effective programs in terms of curriculum, dosage, and quality.
  • Future studies should incorporate stronger research designs.
  • Funding grants would be useful in helping further the field, by enabling correctional educators to partner with researchers and evaluators to evaluate their programs.
  • A study registry of correctional education evaluations would help develop the evidence base in the field, to inform policy and programmatic decisionmaking.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education: A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults, by Lois M. Davis, Robert Bozick, Jennifer L. Steele, and Jessica Saunders, also describes the potential cost savings of investing in correctional education.