On May 16, I attended the virtual Correctional Education Symposium hosted by the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) and the Correctional Education Association (CEA). The symposium brought together over 1,500 educators from across the country. Here are just a few of the highlights from the speakers and attendees:
Highlight #1: Innovative Practices
In 2021, California-based Roots of Success (ROS) was approved by the federal Department of Labor as the nation’s first “Environmental Literacy Instructor” Registered Apprenticeship Program. ROS offers a multimedia, activity-based curriculum customized for prisons, jails, and reentry programs, and is taught by incarcerated instructors trained and certified to teach and mentor their peers. ROS prepares individuals for reentry and 100+ jobs and career pathways, and to improve conditions in their communities. To date, nearly 12,000 incarcerated students have completed the program. ROS has partnered with programs in 40 states, Puerto Rico, the UK, and South Africa with more than 1,900 trained and certified instructors worldwide. https://rootsofsuccess.org/
Highlight #2: Equity in Corrections
Washington’s Education Navigator Program addresses equity concerns facing justice-impacted students in their access to higher education. Through a partnership between WA DOC and the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, incarcerated individuals are provided education and employment reentry support through a statewide network of prison- and community-based Education Navigators. The program includes 12 correctional facility-based Navigators as well as 15 campus-based Navigators, five of whom are themselves justice-impacted individuals. Having Navigators in the facilities as well as on the college campuses provides for a smoother reentry transition and allows for a full continuum of post-release support. https://doc.wa.gov/docs/publications/500-BR007.pdf
Highlight #3 – Overcoming Reentry Barriers
Tennessee’s Project R.E.A.P. (Reentry, Employment, and Adult Education Program), is a statewide initiative to curb recidivism through education and workforce development programs for those currently incarcerated in county jails, and create a new pipeline of qualified workers for TN employers. Project R.E.A.P. provides tablets into TN’s county jails, providing incarcerated individuals the opportunity to complete the required adult education coursework for the HiSET high school equivalency exam. In addition, participants use the tablets for career training, certification, reentry preparation, resume building, job search support, mental health services, and substance abuse wellness, as well as life skills, educational games, and TED Talks. Project R.E.A.P. currently has 5,868 tablets in 77 county jail facilities in TN. https://www.tn.gov/workforce/general-resources/news/2023/2/23/tennessee-earns-national-recognition-for-workforce-development-program.html
Highlight #4 – Higher Education
Starting July 1, 2023, Pell Grant eligibility will be restored to incarcerated people in federal and state prisons, as well as jails and juvenile facilities. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the Pell reinstatement journey has taken over two years and involved thousands of engaged stakeholders. Approximately 30% of incarcerated adults have not earned a high school credential before or during incarceration, yet 70% of all jobs in 2027 will require postsecondary education or training beyond high school. With Pell grants being reinstated, there will be significant educational opportunities both during incarceration and after release through this important new funding stream. https://www.vera.org/
The Correctional Education Symposium highlighted promising initiatives that demonstrate the potential of education to empower incarcerated individuals and reduce recidivism while addressing the evolving needs of the workforce. I continue to be inspired by the collaborative spirit of all who attended and participated!
Mary Beth Smith is the Correctional Education and Reentry specialist for CareerScope. Follow her on LinkedIn.
CareerScope helps adults and youth in correctional settings select the most appropriate education or training program to prepare for reentry into the workforce and their communities.