Studies on education programs in prison settings have been conducted for years. However, they evaluate different programs (e.g., college courses vs. vocational training), measure different impacts (cost savings vs. recidivism), and occur across different states. This makes it challenging to know the overall, or typical, effect of these efforts.
Recognizing this challenge, we methodically found and reviewed 750 research papers published between 1980 and 2022 related to prison education programs. Of these, we identified 78 that examined the impact of these programs on one or more outcomes. These studies were the source of a meta-analysis that included 148 unique estimates of the causal effects of prison education programs assessed in the identified studies.
This meta-analysis is the largest on the topic to date and features a substantial portion of studies of the highest quality. Of the 148 estimates, 105 come from papers that use random assignment or quasi-random assignment to estimate the effect of prison programs. These types of studies are typically the best way to estimate the causal relationships between an intervention and an outcome. In other words, this study is the first to calculate the impact of different prison education programs using only high-quality studies. Three different outcomes are considered: recidivism, employment, and wages.