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First Step Act: Best Practices for Academic and Vocational Education for Offenders

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2019
13 pages

In fulfilling the legislative mandate in Title V, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2018, Part NN, Section 3041 ( c ), this guide presents an overview of best practices in providing academic and vocational education for offenders in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities.


To date, the large body of literature on the provision of education in prison has received the most empirical attention and has produced mixed results; however, there is some evidence that indicates participation in vocational or academic programming is related to modest reductions in recidivism after release. For those receiving correctional education, the odds of obtaining post-release employment are 12-percent higher than the odds of obtaining post-release employment among inmates who did not receive correctional education. This finding holds for both traditional academic programs and vocational education programs. On the other hand, strong conclusions about the effectiveness of in-custody education programs cannot be made, due to the lack of scientific rigor of the large majority of the completed evaluations. This suggests that although providing employment and vocation training assistance can potentially be an important component of reducing recidivism after release, such strategies must also include other interventions that change criminal-thinking patterns, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has identified several examples of educational best practices within the federal prison system. English-as-a-Second Language Program (ESL) is required by the BOP for inmates with little English proficiency (ESL). The mandatory instruction ends when the inmate has achieved eighth-grade proficiency. The BOP also has a Literacy Program designed to assist inmates in developing foundational knowledge and skills in reading, math, and written expression. Recommendations are also offered in the areas of occupational education, promising prison-based interventions, state-level innovation, jails, and juvenile facilities.

Date Published: June 1, 2019