Reentry Education Framework: Guidelines for Providing High-Quality Education for Adults Involved in the Criminal Justice System

This report presents an approach for reentry education providers to develop an education continuum that strengthens their services and bridges the gap between facility- and community-based programs.

Michelle Tolbert
Laura Rasmussen Foster
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education
RTI International
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Target Audience

Although reentry education is well documented as an evidence-based, cost-effective approach to preparing incarcerated adults for release, education services offered by correctional facilities are often disconnected from community-based education programs and other support. This lack of communication and coordination can make it difficult for adults to complete their coursework and earn a credential as they transition in and out of the criminal justice system.

The Reentry Education Framework presents an approach for reentry education providers to develop an education continuum that strengthens their services and bridges the gap between facility- and community-based programs. This report offers guidelines, tools, and resources to support implementation of the five components of the framework: 

Program Infrastructure. Before building an education continuum, providers first need to ensure they have a solid foundation that includes a diverse funding base and in-kind resources; adequate space and equipment; well-trained, dedicated staff; a process for collecting and using data for program improvement; and administrative policies that support reentry education. 

Strategic Partnerships. An education continuum depends on strategic partnerships among facility- and community-based education providers (if different) and the corrections system. It also requires education providers to work closely with other organizations providing support and employment services to adults while incarcerated and upon release. 

Education Services. With a strong program infrastructure and strategic partnerships, reentry education providers should have the resources and capacity to deliver evidence-based education services aligned with approaches used in the community, such as using advanced technologies to enhance instruction. These services should help adults identify and pursue a career pathway that will enable them to obtain a living- wage job. 

Transition Processes. Education services should be an integral part of the corrections system (e.g., during the intake and prerelease processes at a facility) so that adults can easily progress along their education path as their correctional status changes. Because not all adults with criminal histories participate in educational services while incarcerated, the transition into community-based reentry education programs is also important. 

Sustainability. As with any system, an education continuum — including its infrastructure, partnerships, education services, and position within the corrections system — requires early and ongoing work to ensure that it will persist through fluctuations in resources, staff turnover, and other changes.

To assist education providers in using the framework to guide the development and implementation of their individualized education continuum, the report includes:

  • an overview of the Reentry Education Framework;
  • guidelines, technical assistance tools, and resources informed by the experiences of three Promoting Reentry Success Through the Continuity of Education Opportunities (PRSCEO) sites; and
  • examples from the PRSCEO sites describing their experiences with implementing an education continuum. 
Benefits and Uses

Each component of the Reentry Education Framework should be tailored to the specific context and needs of the education provider, its partners, and the target population. Because some providers may be farther along than others in creating an education continuum, the authors suggest using the Tool Kit as follows:

  1. Review the report in its entirety to understand the rationale for and connections among each component of the framework.
  2. Conduct an implementation self-assessment to identify components of the education continuum that need to be established or strengthened. See page 17 for guidance on conducting a self-assessment and Appendix A for a sample self-assessment tool.
  3. Use the self-assessment results to develop an action plan for implementing a reentry education continuum. See page 17 for guidance on creating an action plan and Appendix B and the website for a sample planning tool.
  4. Return to relevant sections of the report and the corresponding website for tools and resources to support building or strengthening your program’s infrastructure, partnerships, education services, transition processes, and sustainability strategy.

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