Inmate Literacy: What are the Most Effective and Cost-Effective Strategies to Teach Basic Reading and Math Skills to Adult Inmates in California

The report consists of 11 recommendations and supportive narrative and charts that highlight effective strategies for correctional education. 

Thom Gehring, Ph.D.
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Center for the Study of Correctional Education, California State University, San Bernadino
Faculty Research Fellows Program Center for California Studies California State University, Sacramento
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

The reports reviews models of correctional educations over time in order to identify particular models, or paradigms, of programming utilized in prisons.  It focuses on these models and on the literature review discussing them in order to make 11 recommendations to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. (CDCR):

  1. Recommendation 1: CDCR Statewide education personnel should immediately take stock of resources and aspirations, to plan program attributes that can be implemented when the budget crisis eases.
  2. Recommendation 2: The key initiative should be to make CDCR program parameters and evaluations consistent with both the correctional education paradigm (how things have been done) and anomalies (problems that the paradigm has not solved). 
  3. Recommendation 3: CDCR correctional officers' preservice and inservice training programs should include discrete components on the value of education and its alignment with every aspect of the institutional purpose. 
  4. Recommendation 4: The Blueprint for Action advanced in the report Linking Adults to Opportunity: Transformation of the California Department of Education (CDE) Adult Education Program should be applied as a model for CDCR education.
  5. Recommendation 5: CDCR should negotiate with the California Department of Education to change its education programs into real schools by adopting the correctional school district (CSD) organizational configuration. 
  6. Recommendation 6: The reductionist reliance on recidivism as an important measure of correctional education program success should be avoided wherever possible. 
  7. Recommendation 7: CDCR should adopt or develop a program evaluation model capable of addressing both the correctional educational paradigm and its anomalies. 
  8. Recommendation 8: CDCR educational decisions should be informed by the literature of correctional education, and by field-based experiences of teaching and learning in the confinement setting.
  9. Recommendation 9: Planning to improve CDCR's education program should be based, in part, on what has been learned about correctional education anomalies and its rich "hidden heritage" literature.
  10. Recommendation 10: The current CDCR mode of offering limited educational opportunities, which is actually a return to the nationwide pre-1965 correctional education pattern, should be studied comprehensively to maximize its potential benefits. 
  11. Recommendation 11: Special steps should be taken to improve the organizational culture of CDCR's Statewide education programs. 
What the experts say

This report is based on the climate of severe budgetary cuts in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in 2010-11 and the near dismantling of the correctional education efforts in the state due to these dynamics.  The author examines the literature and role of correctional education and develops a set of recommendations to be considered by policy makers and corrections officials for correctional education in times of budgetary duress.

It is unclear that this report, although it meets many criteria, will be of direct interest to line practitioners.  Having said that, though, it is brief enough so that with proper annotation it could provide useful information to administrators (particularly those writing grants, justifying approaches, and rationale for particular budgets, etc) and could lead practitioners to additional resources. 


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