An Evaluation of the Effect of Correctional Education Programs on Post-Release Recidivism and Employment: An Empirical Study in Indiana: This 2012 study follows both inmate who participated in educational programming and prisoners who did not. They found a dramatically lower level of recidivism in those who participated in educational programming, as well as better-paying and more sustainable employment.

Changing Minds: The Impact of College in a Maximum Security: This study looks at women at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. It found that women who participated in educational programs became more invested in their futures and therefore more thoughtful decision makers. Additionally, their children demonstrated pride in their mothers education.

LEARNING to Reduce Recidivism: This study provides an overview of the state and benefits of educational programming in prisons in the United States. It collects data from many different surveys and provides a concise overview of prison education in America.

Winners and Losers: Corrections and Higher Education in California: This study of the California state budget found that the budget allocations for prison rose at the same time that the state slashed funding for higher education. It suggests that the dramatic rise in prison populations contributes to the increased spending.


Cummins, Eric. The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1994.
Cummins chronicles the California prison movement from the 1950s to 1980, which he sees as inextricably linked with prisoners’ reading and writing. He analyzes the changes to education within San Quentin, from institutionalized bibliotherapy, in which prison administration attempted to use carefully curated reading lists as a therapeutic tool, to the unofficial inmate self-education, in which inmates linked to outside groups like the Black Panther Party or the Symbionese Liberation Party taught literacy, history and social theory by introducing fellow inmates to their own branches of political thought. Cummins asserts that the transfer of control over educational material from the prison to the prisoners precipitated clashes between the two in the late 1970s and a strengthening of the prison that halted the prisoners’ rights movement.

Morris, Norval and Rothman, David J. The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998
This anthology provides an overview of historical paradigms in Western criminal justice from the early modern period to the present. The prison began as an effort to eradicate the “barbarian” and “humiliating” methods such as the stocks, the removal of limbs, or immediate execution. It then discusses different mindsets in different eras: from religious to rehabilitative to punitive. Prison reformers over the years attempted isolation, education, and other reformative approaches, but several common themes led to the demise of every paradigm: programs often lacked the funding to ever be truly implemented and overcrowding meant a loss of individualization or actual care. An important contribution of this book is that it illustrates how the approach to punishment is not stagnant, but the challenges to system persist.

Parenti, Christian. Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis. Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 1999
Parenti explores the expansion of the prison industrial process from the 1970s to the present in a damning critique of the criminal justice system. He begins with “Nixon’s Splendid Little War,” as the chaos of the 60s inspired fear that led to increased investment in police and the federalization of crime control. Parenti paints a dystopian image of an unnoticed police state, and he specifically notes the prominence of race in increased policing. He calls for alternative means to enforce the law, wanting to decrease the emphasis on policing and incarceration and instead focus on providing economic justice to marginalized communities.

Perkinson, Robert. Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire. New York: Picador, 2010.
Perkinson traces the history of prisons in Texas, naming them a “pioneer in criminal justice severity.” He relates this harshness both to the Texas’ historical roots to plantations and to the politics of race and nativism in the state. Although initially deemed “barbaric,” the harsh, conservative approach of Texas won out became a blue-print for the rest of the country. According to Perkinson, the Bush administration took the crime-and-punishment model even further, using it to determine foreign policy in the wake of 9-11.

Sullivan, Larry E. The Prison Reform Movement: Forelorn Hope. 1. publ. ed. Boston: Twayne Publ., 1990
Larry E. Sullivan describes the core tenets of the Progressive Era as they applied to the prison system. Progressives expected people’s behavior to be shaped by certain social and biological laws. Thus, they could treat them by scientific means. Called “The New Penology,” the method aimed to cure the root causes of criminal behavior, as opposed to exacting punishment for a crime, focusing on rehabilitation instead of punishment. . Reformers also stressed the humanity of prisoners, arguing that they were basically normal people who lacked an understanding of proper socialization. He contrasts this with the reform attempts in the 1950s, in which the optimism of the penologists directly contrasted the intentions of the inmates, who often faked rehabilitation in order to convince prison administration that they were ready for parole. This, he explains, came from the prevailing knowledge that no matter the rhetoric of reform, “custody always took precedence…. The concept of rehabilitation is fine, but it takes a back seat to public safety; and public safety means order and no riots or escapes.”

Vogel, Brenda. 1995. Down for the Count: A Prison Library Handbook. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.
Vogel primarily provides tips for librarians working within a prison, from book recommendations to suggestions on how to deal with inmates flirtations. She also discusses the clampdown on education which stemmed from the nagging suspicion that increased access to information failed to reform prisoners and, in fact, caused the prison riots. The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, which distributed funding to “[i]mprove the performance of the criminal justice system,” stipulated that wardens should see “Books… as potential threats to prison discipline and security, introducing dangerous and possibly inflammatory ideas. To bring books into prisons could lead to unrest and disorder.”

Historical Articles:

Gribben, Bruce. “Prison Education in Michigan City, Indiana.” The Phi Delta Kappan. Vol 64, No 9 (May 1963). pp 656-658
In this short article, Gribben describes the program at Lakeside School. Many of the problems faced are similar to those at other prisons: limited resources, conflict with the custodial staff, and the difficulty of working within the prison bureaucracy. The article stresses the environmental stressors of the prison, deemphasizing any sort of tension rising from the inmate students themselves. It ends on a positive note, listing the numbers of degrees earned and declaring how much this would benefit society as a whole.

Justice, Benjamin. 2000. “”A College of Morals”: Educational Reform at San Quentin Prison, 1880-1920″. History of Education Quarterly. 40 (3): 282-83
Justice offers an overview of education at San Quentin from 1880-1920, analyzing the role of education within the greater aims of the penal system. Over this period, education became a much more pertinent part of the prison, shifting from the nineteenth-century focus on work and punishment. This arose both from scientific reasoning (it was believed that education could “cure” the disease of criminality”) and an increasing humanitarian sentiment. He ties this to the greater middle-class Progressive movement, which demonstrated unwavering faith in the power of education. By the 1920s, Justice claims, California’s prison system could be called “progressive.”

McCarty, Heather J. “Educating Felons” Reflections on Higher Education in Prison.” Radical History Review. 96 (2006): 87-94.
In this reflection, McCarty describes the contradictions inherent to a prison higher education program: a university education encourages free thinking, while a prison is defined by control. McCarty taught in San Quentin while she was a graduate student at UC Berkeley, and she conveys the numbers of challenges she faced, such as limits to library resources and access, administrative censorship, and complications like lockdowns and involuntary work assignments. She describes the education program as rewarding for both her and her students, and ends with a plea to increase such programs to support inmates who do want to rehabilitate.

Rubin, Rhea Joyce. “Keeping Professional Librarians inPrison: or the Problems of Professionalism in Prison Libraries.” American Library Associatio. Vol 23, No 1 (Fall 1983) pp 40-46
Rubin examines the issues facing prison librarians and argues for increasing incentive to encourage librarians to work in prisons. Issues include the fact that they are required to work on censorship boards and that many of them burn out early. She encourages incentives such as increased pay and leave time to encourage professionals to work in these libraries instead of nonprofessionals.

Sedgley, Norman H.; Scott, Charles E; Williams, Nancy A; Derrick, Frederick W. “Prison’s Dilemma: Do Education and Jobs Programmes Affect Recidivism?Economica. Vol 77 Issue 307 (2010) pp 497-517
This paper analyzes the impact of education in regards to recidivism for over four thousand prisoners released from Ohio prisons in the early 1990s over a ten year period. The study found a substantial savings for the state due to decreasing or delaying return to prison.

Sullivan, L. E. 2000. “The Least of Our Brethren: Library Service to Prisoners Money is always available for punishment, but what about for reading?” AMERICAN LIBRARIES. 31: 56-59
Sullivan examines the contradiction between the (normal) library as a place of access and the prison library as a child of control. He describes the prison library efforts of the 1960s and 70s, which provided money for law libraries and other reading materials and which, he recalls, were heavily used. These efforts were abandoned soon thereafter, as they were seen as a waste of taxpayer money. He urges the integration of internet resources into prison education programs, be it available access for inmates or the ability to bring in printouts for them to read. In conclusion, he warns that no substantial reforms will be made to prison education without “first determining our basic philosophic princiles concerning the treatment of inmates” (58). In other words, are they there to be punished, or rehabilitated? And if we neglect the commitment to rehabilitate, are we prepared to face the consequences?

Sullivan, Larry E. 1998. “Reading in American Prisons: Structures and Strictures.” Libraries & Culture. 33 (1): 113-119.
Sullivan places reading within the history of prison reform, examining how reading offers a means of mental escape or survival. He looks at what books which have been popular with prisoners, citing adventure novels for their escape value and philosophers like Nietzche who wrote about “power, disillusionment, and the primacy of the will over the intellect” (118). In this way, he illustrates the difference between the institutional approach to inmate reading – that of attempting to control rehabilitation – and what he claims is the inmate’s intention – escaping from control.

Taylor, Andress. “Beyond Rehabilitation: The Federal City College Lorton Project-A Model Higher Education Program.The Journal of Negro Education. Vol 43 No 2 (Spring 1974) p 172-178
Andress Taylor describes the program at Federal City College, which he claims goes beyond the basic levels of education and truly addresses the issues plaguing members of the black community who turn to crime. He sees education as a way to gain power in society, and suggests allowing inmates to have some say in the creation of the program. The program aims at more than just “getting out,” and it must be goal-oriented.

Wilkins, Barratt. “The Correctional Facility Library: History and Standards.” Graduate School of Library and Information Science. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In Library Trends 26 (1) 1977: Library Services to Correctional Facilities: 119-124
Wilkins describes a survey conducted in the 1970s (contemporary to him) that found a disjunct between what administrators aimed to get from prison libraries and what librarians sought to achieve. For the former, they sought “reentry” – that prisoners could be productive members of society upon release. Librarians, on the other hand, wanted “rehabilitation.” He discusses the opportunities presented by prison libraries, specifically the creation of an accreditation system for prison libraries. He sees the prison library as something beyond the normal debate on the criminal justice system, and predicts a continuation of support for library programs. Modern hindsight, however, now shows that his optimism was misplaced.