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
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.