Course Corrections: Assessing the Value of Prison-Based Education for Incarcerated Youth in Washington State

Does youth participation in education programs during incarceration raise earning and education outcomes and reduce recidivism after release?

Over half of the young adults in prison do not hold a GED or high school diploma, and many experience poor employment outcomes when leaving prison. But correctional education programs may improve inmates’ skills and work behaviors, as well as provide opportunities to earn credentials that are needed to secure jobs after release. Such opportunities during incarceration could be consequential for reducing inequality in youth outcomes on the basis of race and economic standing, since Black, Latino, and low-income young adults are over-represented in U.S. prisons. To better understand how these programs might affect the earnings and education outcomes of formerly incarcerated youth, this study will examine correctional education programs in Washington State, where individual campuses of the state community college system offer the same secondary credentials, associate degree programs, and post-secondary occupational certificates to incarcerated youth as they do the general population. The team will examine whether participation in education programs during incarceration raises youth earnings, labor market participation, and education outcomes while reducing the rate of return to prison. The sample includes 14,835 youth who were convicted of a felony offense in Washington State and were released from prison between 2009 and 2014. The sample will be extended to also include youth released through 2018, and the team will link data from administrative, longitudinal data sets from several public agencies.

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