Federal Prisons:

Inmate and Staff Views on Education and Work Training Programs

GGD-93-33: Published: Jan 19, 1993. Publicly Released: Feb 22, 1993.

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Norman J. Rabkin
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) educational and vocational programs, focusing on: (1) whether BOP has reliable information on inmate participation in the programs; (2) incentives for encouraging inmate participation; and (3) whether BOP vocational training and industry work assignments provided marketable skills.

GAO found that: (1) BOP did not maintain accurate or complete data on inmate participation in vocational and educational programs in its education data system (EDS), partly due to lack of EDS training and the use of institution-specific procedures for handling educational data; (2) BOP is developing an EDS handbook and training program to better ensure proper documentation of inmate participation; (3) inmates most frequently cited self-improvement and better chances for success after release as the reason they participated in the programs; (4) inmates who did not participate in the programs cited the lack of classes that interested them and the desire to use their time to earn money as reasons for nonparticipation; (5) the most popular participation incentives among inmates and staff were reduced prison time, preferred housing assignments, reduced custody level, and school attendance during the workday; (6) BOP did not always enforce the requirement that inmates lacking a high school diploma must acquire a general equivalency diploma before work pay increases and promotions; (7) slightly more than one-half of the inmates and three-fourths of the staff thought that participation in a vocational program or work assignments would be useful in acquiring marketable skills; (8) one-third of the inmates thought that participation in vocational programs would help them get a job upon release; and (9) participants generally made better adjustments, had fewer parole revocations, maintained employment better, and earned slightly more money than nonparticipants.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Citing inmate population growth and the resulting overcrowding of BOP facilities, BOP does not believe it is feasible to offer preferred housing assignment or custody level reductions as inmate incentives for participating in and completing education and vocational training programs. However, BOP has issued a policy statement that encourages institutions to permit inmates to work half a day in prison industries and attend school the remainder of the day. BOP has also increased its use of student achievement recognition programs that family members may attend.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director, BOP, to explore broadening the incentives used to promote inmate participation in and completion of education and vocational training programs. In particular, BOP should explore the feasibility of using as incentives preferred housing assignments, custody level reductions, and school attendance during the regular workday and if warranted, consider doing tests or pilots.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BOP Program Statement 8120.01 (March 27, 1995) provides that inmates who secure a FPI assignment above grade 4 (grade 1 being the highest) or who wish to work in incentive pay positions (piece rate) must have obtained a GED or high school diploma. If labor requirements at the institution warrant an exception, the inmate must be progressing at an acceptable level in a literacy or related program or be terminated from incentive pay employment. The policy does not apply to inmates promoted above entry level prior to May 1, 1991.

    Recommendation: The Director, BOP, should require that his staff better ensure that pay raises not be granted to inmates who have not completed and are not exempt from the literacy requirement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Bureau of Prisons


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