Literacy Fact Sheet: Correctional Education

Literacy Fact Sheet: Correctional Education

From the Oklahoma Department of Libraries
Inmates have among the lowest academic skills and literacy rates of any segment of society. Upon completing their sentence, most inmates re-enter society no more skilled than when they entered the correctional facility.—Correction Education Data Guidebook, U.S. Department of Education


  • The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. At yearend 2010, the total number of offenders under the supervision of the adult correction authorities represented about 3% of adults in the U.S. resident population or 1 in every 33 adults. Some 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in prisons or jails, while another 4,887,900 were under community supervision as part of the parole and probation systems. America locks up more of its citizens than Iceland, Japan, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, and Italy combined.
  • In 2008, one of every 48 working-age men was in prison or jail.—The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration
  • In 2008, federal, state, and local governments spend nearly $75 billion on corrections, with the large majority spent on incarceration.—The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration
  • If the male high school graduation rate were increased by just 5%, annual crime-related savings to the nation would be approximately $5 billion dollars. The benefits would vary from state to state: South Dakota (at the low end) would save $1.6 million, Oklahoma (near the middle) would save $63 million, and California (at the high end) would save almost $675 million.—Saving Futures, Saving Dollars
  • Nationwide, three-quarters of state prison inmates are drop-outs, as are 59% of federal inmates. In fact, drop-outs are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated in their lifetime. African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated. Of all African American male drop-outs in their early 30’s, 52% have been imprisoned. 90% of the 11,000 youth in adult detention facilities have less than a 9th-grade education.—Every Nine  Seconds in America a Student Becomes a Dropout
  • Both male and female prison inmates had lower average scores on all three literacy scales (prose, document, and quantitative) than adults of the same gender living in households. 56% of prisoners had Below Basic or Basic prose literacy skills.—The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)
The NAAL reported the Education Levels of Prisoners as:
less than high school 9%
some high school 28%
high school diploma 13%
GED 28%


  • Various studies have found that education diminishes the rate of recidivism. A study by the Federal Bureau of Prisons concluded that “the more actively the inmates successfully participated in prison education programs, the less likely they were to recidivate.”
  • Literacy is perhaps of most concern for inmates who are nearing their expected date of release because they will need to find jobs outside of prison. In 2003, some 62 percent of inmates expected to be released within 2 years.—Literacy Behind Bars
  • A three-state recidivism study conducted in Maryland, Minnesota and Ohio revealed that participants in correctional education programs had statistically significantly lower rates of re-arrest (48%) when compared to the group of non-participants (57%).
  • The three-state study also stated that re-conviction rates of correctional education participants were 21% as compared to 35% of the comparison group of non-participants.—Education Reduces Crime
  • Research studies provide strong evidence that post-secondary correctional education can achieve a variety of important purposes. Higher education can improve conditions within correctional facilities, enhance prisoner self-esteem and prospects for employment after release, and function as a cost-effective approach to reducing recidivism.—Learning to Reduce Recidivism

Recommended Resources

Correctional Population in the United States, 2010
Education Reduces Crime, Correctional Education Association
The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration
Learning to Reduce Recidivism, 2005
Literacy Behind Bars: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy Prison Survey
Saving Futures, Saving Dollars
(Published by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and used here with persmission)