Characteristics of Inmates - Education Of Prison And Jail Inmates

school population college educational

Early in 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a special report, Education and Correctional Populations, on the educational attainment of prison and jail inmates. Data on prisoners are for the benchmark years of 1991 and 1997. The study utilized surveys of inmates in correctional facilities for those two years, surveys of local jail inmates conducted in 1989 and 1996, Current Population Survey data for 1997, and data from the 1992 Adult Literacy Survey sponsored by the National Center of Educational Statistics. Although the data are somewhat dated, this study is the most recent to take a comprehensive consideration of the education of inmates. Profile of Jail Inmates, 2002 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 2004), provides some updated statistics on the educational levels of jail inmates in 2002.

Educational Attainment

In 1997, 11.4% of state prisoners had "postsecondary/some college" education or were "college graduates or more." Federal prisoners in the same categories represented 23.9% of the federal prison population. In contrast, 48.4% of the general population had postsecondary education or a college degree or higher. Prisoners with less than a high school education comprised 39.7% of the state prison population and 26.5% of the federal prison population in 1997—compared to only 18.4% of the general population that had attained less than a high school education.

In 1997, 33.2% of the general population had achieved a high school diploma as their highest level of education. By contrast, only 20.5% of the state prison population and 27% of the federal prison population were high school graduates. More than a fifth of the prison population had a General Education Development (GED) certificate—28.5% in state prisons, 22.7% in federal prisons. No comparable data for the general population were available. Concerning those in the state prisons without a high school education, Education and Correctional Population presented the following summary:

The groups of state prison inmates who had not completed high school or the GED included:

40% of males and 42% of females

27% of whites, 44% of African-Americans, and 53% of Hispanics

52% of inmates 24 or younger and 35% of inmates 45 or older

61% of noncitizens and 38% of U.S. citizens

59% with a speech disability, 66% with a learning disability, and 37% without a reported disability

47% of drug offenders

12% of those with military service and 44% with no military service.

According to Doris J. James of the Bureau of Justice Statistics in Profile of Jail Inmates, 2002, jail inmates in 2002 with less than a high school education include 31.6% with "some high school" and 12.3% with eighth grade or less, for a total of 43.9% of all inmates. Forty-three percent of jail inmates had attained either a high school diploma or GED as their highest level of education. Thirteen percent of jail inmates had either "some college" or had graduated from college. (See Table 5.5.)

Women and Men

Among state prison inmates in 1997, 41.8% of women had an educational attainment of less than high school compared with 39.6% for men ("eighth grade or less" and "some high school"). Nearly 22% of women had only a high school diploma, 20.4% of men. However, if GED-certified prisoners are combined with high school graduates, men in these categories represented 49.3% of the prison population, women 43.9%. Proportionately more women had an educational attainment exceeding the high school level: 14.3% had postsecondary education, some college, or were college graduates; 11.1% of males fell into these categories. A slightly smaller percentage of women participated in educational programs offered in state prisons than men, 50.1% versus the male participation rate of 52%.

Education by Race and Ethnicity

A breakdown of the state prison population by race and ethnicity shows that 27.2% of whites, 44.1% of African-Americans, and 53% of Hispanics had less than a high school education in 1997—all significantly higher than the same group in the general population (18.4%). For 58% of the white prison population, a high school diploma or GED was their highest educational attainment while 14.9% had at least some college education. Among African American prisoners 45.8% had a high school diploma or GED as their highest educational attainment and 10% had at least some college. Among Hispanics, 39.6% had a high school diploma or GED but no further education and 7.4% had at least some college education.

Education Programs

Most prisons offer some kind of educational programs to inmates including basic adult education, secondary education, college courses, special education, vocational training, and study release programs. According to State of the Bureau 2003: Accomplishments and Goals (Washington, DC: Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2004), in September 2003 there were 21,000 federal prisoners enrolled in GED programs. During 2003, 5,313 inmates graduated from the program and received GEDs. In addition, the Bureau of Prisons also operated or supported 325 occupational training programs, 514 apprenticeship programs, and 158 advanced occupational training programs. Some 10,000 federal prisoners were enrolled in these educational programs during 2003. The Bureau estimated that during 2003 some 35% of all federal prisoners were enrolled in one or another of the available educational programs.

TABLE 5.5
Selected characteristics of jail inmates, by conviction status, 2002 and 1996
SOURCE: Doris J. James, "Table 1. Selected Characteristics of Jail Inmates, by Conviction Status, 2002 and 1996," in Profile of Jail Inmates, 2002, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 2004, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/pji02.pdf (accessed April 2, 2005)

Percent of jail inmates, 2002
Total Convicted Unconvicted Botha 1996
Gender
Male 88.4% 87.7% 89.2% 89.6% 89.8%
Female 11.6 12.3 10.8 10.4 10.2
Race/Hispanic originb
Whitec 36.0% 39.4% 31.0% 33.3% 37.4%
Blackc 40.1 37.3 43.0 44.1 40.9
Hispanic 18.5 18.5 19.6 16.6 18.5
American Indian/Alaska Native 1.3 1.2 1.4 1.6 2.4
Asian/Pacific Islander 1.1 0.9 1.7 0.9 0.9
More than one raced 3.0 2.6 3.3 3.6
Age
17 or younger 1.8% 1.2% 2.9% 1.6% 2.3%
18–24 28.1 28.3 28.9 26.4 28.5
25–34 31.9 31.0 31.8 35.4 37.4
35–44 26.0 27.1 24.2 25.2 23.9
45–54 10.0 10.2 9.4 10.4 6.3
55 or older 2.2 2.2 2.8 1.0 1.5
Marital status
Married 16.2% 15.8% 16.5% 17.3% 15.7%
Widowed 1.2 1.1 1.5 1.1 1.4
Divorced 15.7 16.3 14.7 15.5 15.6
Separated 6.7 7.5 5.6 6.3 8.7
Never married 60.1 59.3 61.7 59.8 58.6
Education
8th grade or less 12.3% 11.8% 14.3% 10.6% 13.1%
Some high school 31.6 30.6 32.7 33.4 33.4
General equivalency diploma 17.1 18.2 14.1 18.6 14.1
High school diploma 25.9 26.1 26.2 24.6 25.9
Some college 10.1 10.5 9.7 9.6 10.3
College graduate or more 2.9 2.8 2.9 3.1 3.2
U.S. citizenship
Citizen 92.2% 92.6% 89.5% 95.8% 91.8%
Noncitizen 7.8 7.4 10.5 4.2 8.2
Number of jail inmatese 631,241 394,039 182,754 100,495 507,026
aIncludes inmates with a prior conviction, but no new conviction for the current charge.
bExcludes 0.3% of inmates in 1996 and 2002 who did not specify a race.
cNon-Hispanic inmates.
dIncludes 1.6% of jail inmates who specified black and other races; 1.3%, American Indian/Alaskan Native and other races; and 0.1%, Asian and other races.
eThe survey totals were weighted to midyear estimates from the Annual Survey of Jails in 1995 and 2001.

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