Research Resources


Correctional Education Association
4380 Forbes Blvd.
Lanham, MD 20706
(800) 783-1232
(301) 918-1846 (fax)


Search the Corrections Resource Database


Introduction: Prisons were used in Europe as early as the 12th century, but they were not originally considered necessary by the founders of the United States. In 1787, concerned citizens in Pennsylvania founded the Pennsylvania Prison Society. The Correctional Education Movement also started in Pennsylvania, at the Philadelphia Walnut Street Jail, where clergyman William Rogers first offered instruction to inmates.

David Snedden and other prominent, WWI-era, urban school reformers were originally interested in reformatory schools as compulsory attendance "laboratories." Soon after, reformers found additional reasons to study correctional education programs. Snedden reported on models of vocational, physical, and military education in his 1907 book, Administration and Educational Work of American Juvenile Reform Schools, and summarized how educators in public schools could learn from correctional educators. Snedden's work was based on the principles he observed in practice in reformatory schools. He further investigated juvenile correctional education to identify additional models for use in school settings.

Educators in institutions face the same frustrating problems that public school educators face, but they do so in a coercive setting that may further aggravate the problems. Correctional educators work with the students who have dropped out of schools, those who have been pushed out, and those who have experienced repeated failures in local schools. The students that correctional educators work with are often embittered, apathetic, and alienated, and may have histories of violent tendencies and/or poor self-esteem. Students in correctional education settings have extremely high incident rates of learning and emotional difficulties as well as drug-related problems. An additional deficit may be poor study skills.

Despite the fact that most prisons, reformatories, and training schools seem to be bleak environments more likely to impede student learning than to encourage it, most correctional education programs are judged successful according to the traditional measures of learning. It was on the basis of this kind of finding that the US Education Department established a Correctional Education Office in Washington, DC in 1980.

Major Themes of the Correctional Education Movement

Known as the Sabbath school period, this was the time frame when correctional education became possible. Prison management systems included the Pennsylvania (or solitary confinement) and Auburn (in which inmates are told to be silent ) systems.


This period is marked as Zebulon Brockway's tenure at the Elmira Reformatory. Major researchers of the period include Alexander Machonochie and Walter Crofton. It is during this period that Reformatory Movement efforts begin to transform prisons into schools.


Libraries, reformatories for women, and democracy in correctional settings are introduced during this period. Major researchers of the period include Thomas Mott Osborn and Austin McCormick.


These years are considered to be the Golden Age of Correctional Education. Highlights include MacCormick's innovative programs, the rebirth of correctional/special education, and the founding of the Correctional Education Association in 1930.


This period is marked by a proliferation of social education programs; a major theme is the recovery from the interruption of WWII.


Highlights of this period include the expansion of Federal influence, the rise of post-secondary programs in correctional education settings, the establishment of correctional school districts, special education legislation, and correctional education teacher preparation programs.


This period is marked by a conservative trend in Federal influence and many states, the rise of the Correctional Education Association's influence; and the continuation of the trends from the previous period.


Correctional educators have more access to information concerning the history of correctional education and the development of professional networks. There is also more international cooperation than before.

Individually Prescribed Instruction: Individually Prescribed Instruction (or IPI) has been employed historically in many settings, but IPI was systematically applied and perfected at correctional and reformatory schools. The IPI method is designed to address an individual's basic skills deficits and to meet the wide range of needs of a population, such as at a correctional institution. This by-product of correctional education has had a substantial impact in other educational settings.

Correctional Education Today: Historically, correctional educators have identified with disciplines related to correctional education and not with the profession itself. Correctional educators have identified with Sunday school teachers, the settings of higher   education, common schools, adult education, public secondary education, and correspondence course programs, and even social work. The Correctional Education Association is one organization that seeks to provide educators in corrections settings with professional development resources and to network persons across the field.

The primary sources for this history of correctional education were the Encyclopedia of American Prisons edited by Marilyn D. McShane and Frank P. Williams III (Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996) and other writings from Thom Gehring and Carolyn Eggleston for the Journal of Correctional Education and the Correctional Education Association.

Historical Development of a Model for Correctional Education and Literacy
Stephen J. Steurer
This article reviews the 30 year history of the evolution of a correctional educational literacy model. It is based on the author's personal experience as a resource teacher, a federal monitor, an auditor for CEA and numerous visits to correctional education programs across the US. The article is also based on a review of a number of important publications and studies in adult and correctional education. The model is not definitive because literacy and correctional education continue to evolve.