Basic Correctional Education and Recidivism: Findings from PIAAC and NRS
Posted by Laura McLoughlin on June 15, 2022 in categoryFacts & Research

There’s limited research on incarcerated adults participating in correctional education programs. The research that does exist supports the notion that participation in basic education programs while in prison can reduce the rate of recidivism and increase employment rates upon re-entry. 

The research article “Basic Correctional Education and Recidivism: Findings from PIACC and NRS” is meant to add to the knowledge base on the topic. The author, Margaret Becker Patterson from Research Allies for Lifelong Learning, uses three data sets to correlate the assessed educational skills and learning outcomes of correctional education programs to state recidivism rates. 

Read an excerpt from the article featured in Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy

Measuring skills and learning outcomes of incarcerated adults and their connection with recidivism of reentering adults from existing largescale data is not a straightforward task. These data are not collected in a single dataset. Largescale data are available separately to examine potential connections at aggregated levels: the U.S. PIAAC Prison Survey (NCES, 2014) and NRS (OCTAE, 2021). 

PIAAC is a large-scale study developed in collaboration with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). PIAAC initially surveyed adults in 24 participating countries in 2012, nine more countries in 2014, and five additional countries in 2017. PIAAC assessed and compared basic skills and competencies of adults; PIAAC assessments focused on cognitive and workplace skills needed for successful participation in 21st-century society (NCES, n.d.). In 2014, the U.S. PIAAC Prison Study was conducted with a sample of 1,319 incarcerated adults (ages 18–74) in federal and state prisons. Incarcerated adults took the same literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy assessments as did U.S. PIAAC household participants, but the prison background questionnaire was adapted to address experiences and needs of incarcerated adults. 

An advantage of the PIAAC Prison Survey is that it measures skills in three domains – literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy – and whether an adult has computer experience (Rampey et al., 2016), which represent important needed community skills. Measuring skills directly allows incarcerated adults to demonstrate how they use skills in practice (Cai et al., 2019). PIAAC also asks about participation in education during incarceration, reasons for doing so, and background characteristics of incarcerated adults. 

In a second largescale dataset, NRS data are reported from the overall adult education’s accountability system under WIOA. States submit an annual performance report, including information on levels of performance achieved and qualitative summary data, to the NRS website (OCTAE, 2021). NRS data measure basic correctional education participation and learning outcomes – including completed learning gains, HSE credentials, and postsecondary participation. A qualitative summary reports on state leadership efforts and includes responses to a single question on state calculation of recidivism rates for basic correctional education programs. In qualitative summaries, a variety of measures of recidivism are reported, but states report 3-year recidivism rates most frequently. 

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