GED holders in prison read better than those in the household population: Why?

Harlow, Caroline Wolf; Jenkins, H. David; Steurer, Stephen
March 2010
Journal of Correctional Education;Mar2010, Vol. 61 Issue 1, p68
Academic Journal
The National Adult Literacy Survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education in 1992 and 2003, included federal and state prisoners. One finding of the 2003 survey was that prisoners with a GED scored higher in reading skills than persons in the general population with the equivalent education. In an attempt to explain that unexpected finding, the authors reviewed literature on inmate achievement, conducted a more detailed analysis of the NAAL and GED data bases and surveyed leaders in correctional education regarding incentives for educational participation. Among the prison population, analysts would expect that many groups within the prison population, would be expected to have trouble reading based upon findings of reading literacy in the general population. However, the analysis determined that those in prison who were black, male, learning disabled, spoke a language other than English while young, or never used a library read better than their counterparts in the general population. In addition, blacks in prison read as well as whites in prison. The learning disabled performed at the same level as other inmates. Those who watched several hours of TV daily read as well as those who didn't watch TV Those who did not frequent a library scored the same as frequent library users. Inmates who did not read books, newpapers or magazines frequently read as well as those who did read. Those who didn't use computers scored the same as those who did use computers. Analysis also found that proportionately more inmates than those in the general population reported behaviors thought to be related to higher literacy, such as library use, less television watching, frequent reading, and less computer use than households. Generally, the analysis also supports the research which suggests that prisoners can and do achieve at levels equal to or higher than members of the community. The public policy implication is that investments in correctional education can provide wide social as well as personal benefits for prisoners. A number of studies have associated educational participation and achievement with increased levels of post release employment and lower recidivism.


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