Thursday, December 28, 2017
"Prison Vocational Education And Policy In The United States"
"It's a custody world." Spoken by an administrator of a prison vocational education program, it sums up the challenges faced by three Chico State University researchers contracted to help the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) determine whether new basic and vocational education programs instituted in 2007 were reducing recidivism. Back then, some 66% of those released were re-arrested within three years.
The idea was to assess the situation, modify behavior, prepare prisoners for re-entry into society, and follow up. All very logical, all very numbers-based. And, it turns out, all very misguided.
The story of the final report, and the behind-the-scenes reality, is told with wry wit by the three professors, a curriculum consultant and two sociologists: William Rich, Tony Waters, and Andrew J. Dick (who died in 2012). "Prison Vocational Education And Policy In The United States: A Critical Perspective On Evidence-Based Reform" ($100 in hardcover from Palgrave Macmillan; also for Amazon Kindle) sounds dry. Far from it.
The book presents the report in the context of prison bureaucracy and the inherent limitations of gathering data. (In the prison system, the researchers are warned, everyone lies.) Eight vignettes provide personal reflections from the white professors ushered into a world of mostly black and brown faces.
In the end, the report went nowhere as the Great Recession hit hard and vocational programs were abandoned. Yet lessons abound. "A class may be well conducted, teachers well trained, and a curriculum well chosen, but the fact that the students may have to submit to anal cavity searches before and after class has consequences for how much learning occurs and the quality of that learning."
The authors "still think that vocational education in prison is a good idea," especially for those with limited sentences, "but this is no longer all we think. We know that prison populations are far more difficult than spreadsheets at the main office may indicate…."
Prison is about punishment and restriction of freedom. "Classes will always be disrupted" for "lockdowns, sudden transfers, gang segregation, safety training, tool checks, and many other routines that trump the educational goals specified by the Legislature."
It's a custody world.