The Challenge and Opportunity Ahead for our Criminal Justice System

In 2014, the National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, released “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States, Exploring Causes and Consequences,” which pointed out that U.S. incarceration rates are 5-10 times higher than rates in Western Europe and other major democracies. It noted the staggering racial disparities in incarceration, and called for a significant reduction in rates of imprisonment saying that the rise in the U.S. prison population is “not serving the country well.”

This report didn’t make a huge splash in the press, but it cemented an emerging recognition that our criminal justice policies – our school discipline, “war on drugs,” “truth in sentencing,” and “three strikes and you’re out” policies – of recent decades resulted in unprecedented and costly U.S. incarceration rates that are both ineffective as a crime reduction strategy and harmful to our social fabric. It is safe to say that this is not how we want to be known in the world community. Instead, we should be known for how we engage at-risk populations, how we reinvest in people who deserve a second chance, and how we support the successful transition of justice-involved individuals back into our communities.

Read More

Closing the Equity Gap

“We must close the equity gap for immigrants, refugees, returning citizens, and all adults with disabilities.” – Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier

Rigoberto Alvarado left El Salvador in 1991 in search of a better life in the United States. He needed English and a job. With the help of friends and family, he found an English class at the Neighborhood Centers’ Oakland Adult and Career Education. He started learning English. He found a job he liked in the hospitality industry. But he quickly realized he needed more skills in order to advance, so he returned to Neighborhood Centers to learn about computers and computer applications. Through hard work and dedication to his education, Rigoberto advanced through the ranks to become banquet manager at the Waterfront Hotel in Jack London Square. He now hires and supervises many employees, manages costs and inventories, and strives to create a positive employee work environment. Rigoberto put himself on the path to the middle class.

As Rigoberto’s experience indicates, employment-focused literacy and numeracy, as well as job skills are critical to the prosperity and well-being of individuals. One third of the 36 million adults with low skills in our country are immigrants or refugees like Rigoberto but they have not yet had the opportunities he has had. Our current programs can only offer English language learning opportunities to about 678,000 adult English learners per year. Unless we create additional opportunities for them, these twelve million adults will have a harder time finding a well-paying job than their higher skilled peers.

Making Skills Everyone’s Business – which was released on February 24 – makes a commitment to closing the equity gap for immigrants and refugees and other adults with multiple barriers including adults with disabilities, returning citizens, homeless adults, and emancipated youth transitioning out of the foster care system. Closing the equity gap is one of the seven strategies included in this national call to transform adult learning.

Data from the Survey of Adult Skills support this strategy. For instance, adults with learning disabilities are twice as likely to have low skills but few programs are equipped to meet these adult learners’ unique needs. Twenty-six percent of adults at Level 1 and 9 percent of those below Level 1 reported a learning disability. The figure below, Figure 9 in the Making Skills Everyone’s Business report, demonstrates the challenge.

This chart shows that 8 percent of U.S. adults ages 16–65 answered yes to a question about whether they have ever been diagnosed or identified as having a learning disability; 92 percent answered no. Of those who answered yes, 35 percent had low literacy skills; that is, they scored below Level 2. Of those who answered no, 17 percent had low literacy skills.

Percentage of U.S. adults ages 16–65 at each level of proficiency on the PIAAC literacy scale, by their responses to a question about whether they have ever been diagnosed or identified as having a learning disability

One subpopulation that requires our attention and commitment are older youth and adults in our correctional facilities. Data on the skills of the incarcerated and on returning citizens are forthcoming, as the National Center for Educations Statistics is completing data collection on a representative sample of institutionalized individuals. Conclusive data are available, however, that show that career-oriented education is one of the more effective interventions that contribute to significant reductions in recidivism according to a recent meta-analysis, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education, conducted by the Rand Corporation. OCTAE’s expanding investments in adult and youth reentry education programs and the expanded provisions for corrections education in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act are just the beginning. We need to work directly with employers to create pathways from prison to good jobs.

Partnerships with employers, employment and training agencies, agencies that can support wrap around support services, and integrated education and training programs that simultaneously provide skills remediation and postsecondary education and training are doable and can create real opportunities. But these partnerships and services demand more resources. In addition to demanding resources, we should have the political will to create more opportunities.

When I traveled all across the country gathering input for Making Skills Everyone’s Business, adult learners told me repeatedly that they are ready to take advantage of the opportunities to improve their skills. Let’s work together to make it happen.

Guest Author: Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier is the former Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Dann-Messier launched the national engagement process that resulted in Making Skills Everyone’s Business.

Restoring the Promise of Education for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

Young students who are expelled or suspended are 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not. Sadly, a significant number of students are removed from class each year — even for minor infractions of school rules. One study found that 95 percent of out-of-school suspensions were for nonviolent, minor disruptions such as tardiness or disrespect.

Exclusionary discipline practices tend to disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities (see more). Nationwide, data collected by our Office for Civil Rights show that African-American students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. While black students represent 16% of student enrollment, they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest.

Gender matters, too.  While boys receive more than two out of three suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates (12 percent) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys. And when looking at disabilities, disparities persist, as well. Although students who receive special education services represent 12 percent of students in the country, they make up 23 percent of students referred to law enforcement and 23 percent of students receiving a school-related arrest.

Read More

photo of Johan Uvin
Posted by
Johan E. Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

How Effective is Correctional Education?

Did you catch the announcement by the RAND Corporation today of a major analysis of research to address the question: “How Effective is Correctional Education?”  Both Attorney General Holder and Secretary of Education Duncan commented on this seminal meta-analysis of research on correctional education in a press release out today.

Read More

Webinar Follow-Up: Correctional Ed Technology Resources

Last month OVAE hosted a webinar on emerging community college correctional and reentry education models and the many contributions community colleges can make to promote more effective reentry of incarcerated individuals.  During that event, Brian Walsh from Peninsula College in Port Angeles, WA discussed the many innovations his institution has implemented to strengthen the education and training programs offered at Clallam Bay Corrections Center and Olympia Corrections Center.  There was a lot of interest in particular in the way Brian’s programs have been able to use technology inside the prison.  Brian has shared with us a list of many of the technology resources his institution utilizes, which you can find here.

In case you missed the live event, you can watch the full webinar and download a copy of the presentation slides here.

Pay for Success Financing

The President’s 2014 Budget Proposal includes several Pay for Success pilots. The Office of Management and Budget at the White House says the following about this new way of financing: “Pay for Success is an innovative way of partnering with philanthropic and private sector investors to create incentives for service providers to deliver better outcomes at lower cost—producing the highest return on taxpayer investments. The concept is simple: pay providers after they have demonstrated success, not based on the promise of success, as is done now.”

Read More

Webinar Recap: Community Colleges and Correctional/Reentry Education

OVAE hosted the second event in its 2013 Community College Webinar Series on Wednesday, April 10 in collaboration with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT).  This event focused on emerging community college correctional and reentry education models and the many contributions community colleges can make to promoting more effective reentry of incarcerated individuals. 

Read More

Reminder: Community College Webinar Series Continues Tomorrow

The second event in OVAE’s 2013 Community College Webinar Series will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, April 10 from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. EDT, and will focus on emerging community college correctional and reentry education models. Click here to register for the webinar.

Bridging the Opportunity Gap: Helping Vulnerable Students Succeed

Worldwide, there are nearly 75 million young people, ages 15 to 24, who are not in school and unemployed. This situation is being described as a global crisis which requires immediate, targeted and renewed action to tackle youth education and employment issues. The U.S. is no exception. Amidst high youth unemployment rates and a growing skills gap in our nation as the baby boom generation retires, our nation is also faced with a widening opportunity gap for vulnerable young people.  In the U.S. today there are nearly 6.7 million “disconnected” young people ages 14 to 24 that are homeless, in foster care, involved in the justice system, or are neither in school or employed. According to the White House Council for Community Solutions, this roughly equates to 1 in 6 young people in this age range.

Focusing on the education and employment needs of “disconnected” youth populations is critical to meeting the President’s goal of the United States, once again, producing the world’s highest proportion of college graduates, and the world’s most competitive workforce, by the year 2020. 

Read More