Incarcerated Students’ Perceptions of Correctional Education

By Stephanie Cage, Rhodes College


A qualitative case study was utilized to examine the lived educational experiences of seven incarcerated students through semi-structured interviews. Study findings revealed several barriers to education, ways students were motivated to take correctional education courses, and students’ self-reflections.


Lock him up! This has been America’s primary response to social problems such as crime, mental illness, failing education systems, poverty, and racial and economic inequality. Thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing laws, the American criminal justice system has exacerbated social problems by means of incarceration. Mass incarceration is a temporary fix for societal problems, a fix that is beginning to come undone at the seams. If we want to truly tackle social issues, we have to provide more long-term solutions.

As stated by Former South African President, Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world…” (Mandela, 2003, para. 18). Education is significant in reducing poverty, helping people to maintain gainful employment and become more productive in society. Intelligence and aptitude for prosperity is directly dependent on the education of the population. Without ongoing learning, people can stagnate.

Research indicates that people who are incarcerated are less educated than the general population on average (Harlow, 2003; The United States Department of Education [DOE], 2009). Furthermore, most people in prison were unemployed or underemployed prior to incarceration (DOE, 2009). In addition to low educational attainment, incarcerated people often lack career related skills and a steady work history. The lack of education and job skills is significant because projections indicate that 95% of people imprisoned in the United States will eventually be released (DOE, 2009). Most jobs in the workforce now require (or at least prefer) some level of postsecondary education. Research indicates that incarceration has the ability to weaken an individual’s aptitude for achieving gainful employment (DOE, 2009). Due to the lack of education and training, many people released from prison relapse into criminal activity. The constant cycle of being in and out of prison makes it difficult for the people to acquire meaningful education and work experience.

Correctional education programs offer a long-term solution toward yielding more educated citizens and lowering recidivism rates. Correctional education programs help to assist people in prison with finding gainful employment post-release, circumventing re-incarceration, and addressing issues of prison overcrowding caused by mandatory sentencing policies. While mounting research exists on the external impact of correctional education such as lowered crime and recidivism rates, there is a growing need for more research on the intrinsic impact of correctional education programs (Hall & Killacky, 2008; Tewksbury & Stengel, 2006). As a marginalized population, incarcerated students’ voices are often unheard. I conducted a study with the primary purpose of hearing those silenced voices. In traditional adult education settings, direct student feedback is often used to improve institutional practices. This practice is less common in correctional education. For special populations such as incarcerated students, there is a limited amount of data which reports students’ perceptions about their learning experiences. Incarcerated students have a vested interest in correctional education programs. As direct recipients of the educational programming, they should be able to exercise their voices about the programs. With the rapid growth of the prison population, it is becoming increasingly important to understand the perspective of people who are incarcerated. Seven incarcerated students in Louisiana shared their lived educational experiences in the study. The findings from semi-structured interviews with those incarcerated students are described in this article.


The United States has alarmingly high incarceration and recidivism rates. Approximately 2.3 million people are incarcerated in the American criminal justice system (Wagner & Sawyer, 2018). Many of those incarcerated are younger Black and Hispanic males (Edwards & LeBlanc, 2017; The United States Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2014). An overwhelming increase in prison expenditures and overcrowding is occurring (Chang, 2012b; Guetzkow & Schoon, 2015; Pew Charitable Trusts, 2011). The state of Louisiana imprisons more people per capita than anywhere else in the world and has been referred to as “the world’s prison capital” (Chang, 2012a). The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (2014) reported that 46% of adults released from prison in Louisiana in 2008 returned to prison within five years of release. With almost half of the Louisiana adult incarcerated population returning to prison, correctional education is a promising strategy.

Limited education and having a criminal record makes it difficult for some formerly incarcerated people to return to society. Re-incarceration rates can partially be attributed to formerly incarcerated people lacking the appropriate skills, knowledge, and training needed to successfully reintegrate into society. While some formerly incarcerated people have managed to successfully reintegrate into society by gaining employment, returning to school, and becoming productive citizens, others will commit new crimes and return to prison or jail. It is estimated that within three years, 40% of those incarcerated adults released from prison are expected to be re-incarcerated (Davis et al., 2013). Correctional education programs aim to reduce recidivism rates by providing people with education and training while in prison. Several studies have shown that rehabilitation programs such as correctional education have a significant impact on not only developing the person incarcerated but also positively impacting society by producing more productive citizens, rather than hindrances (Adams and Benneth, 1994; Jenkins, Steurer, & Pendry, 1995; Karpowitz & Kenner, 2003; Smith & Silverman, 1994; Vacca, 2004; Wilson, Gallagher, & MacKenzie, 2000).

The purpose of the study was to discover and understand the lived educational experiences of incarcerated students taking HiSET (high school equivalency exam preparation), adult basic education, and vocational courses in Louisiana. This study used qualitative research as a means to “hear silenced voices” and “empower individuals to share their stories” (Creswell, 2007, p. 40). Since incarcerated persons are essentially cut off from society, they are often treated as insignificant or powerless. This study sought to hear the marginalized voices of incarcerated students. This study aimed to empower incarcerated students to share their untold stories. The study emphasized student perceptions of the correctional education experience based on previous educational attainment, current educational involvement, and future expectations for post-release success. The study aimed to understand why people in prison chose to enroll in courses, the perceived benefits of taking courses while incarcerated, interactions with peers and correctional staff, and future employment expectations. By exploring the thoughts, emotions, and perspectives of incarcerated students enrolled in education programs, insight on the dynamic influences of correctional education were revealed.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework in this study identifies adult learning theories as they relate to the prison environment and correctional education. Since the purpose of the study was to gain a better understanding of incarcerated student learning experiences through an individual perspective, the framework focuses on student motivation, learning, and persistence. The study also addresses how the external environment impacts student learning outcomes. The theories presented relate to the impact prison education programs have on students’ thoughts, feelings, environment, and motivation; attributes that can lead to positive learning outcomes, improved behavior and lower recidivism rates. Given that the goal of the study was to explore incarcerated student perspectives of their correctional education experience, the theoretical foundation for the study focuses on social learning theory, transformative learning, student integration and persistence, and self-determination theory.

Social learning theory suggests that behavior is learned by observing and mimicking others (Bandura, 1995). The theory also states that learning occurs through the observation of rewards and punishments for certain behaviors. The more a behavior is rewarded, the more likely a person is to exhibit that behavior. Conversely, the more a behavior is punished, the less likely a person is to display that behavior. An examination of incarcerated student educational attainment from the social learning theory standpoint indicates that lower levels of educational attainment exist among people in prison because individuals in their environment also have low levels of educational attainment. The social learning theory approach also implies that the more exposure people in prison have to educational settings, the more likely they are to behave like educated individuals. Self-efficacy is also a major component of Bandura’s (1995) social learning theory. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their own ability to yield a desired result based on their actions (Bandura, 1995). In an academic setting, self-efficacy can have a positive influence on academic success. However, for incarcerated students lower levels of self-efficacy can exist because of the prison environment and individual education experiences (Allred, et. al., 2013).

According to Jack Mezirow (1997), transformative learning theory is a change process that alters how individuals make meaning of their learning experiences. The process transforms frames of references (Mezirow, 1997). Frames of reference “selectively shape and delimit expectations, perceptions, cognition, and feelings” (Mezirow, 1997, p.5). Transformative learning theory implies that individual behavior changes based on perception. For incarcerated students, the implication is that their perceptions about their correctional education experiences help to change behavior outcomes. A major element of transformative learning is a disorienting dilemma. A disorienting dilemma is a life event or a series of events that serve as a catalyst for a change in perspective (Mezirow, 1997). The dilemma causes individual reflection of experiences and beliefs. For example, incarceration could be considered a disorienting dilemma that causes challenges for individuals. Correctional education programs offer incarcerated students a deeper understanding of self, an opportunity for discovery, and influences transformative learning.

Tinto (1975, 1987, 1993) developed an integration model of student persistence. Tinto proposed that two main factors serve as predictors of student persistence: academic and social integration. Although Tinto’s work is based on the persistence of traditional, undergraduate students, studies have indicated that his findings are applicable to other types of students including adult students (Ashar & Skenes, 1993; Bean & Metzner, 1985). Bean and Metzner (1985) presented a similar model for predicting student persistence for adult students. Bean and Metzner’s (1985) model suggests that adult student persistence or departure is based on the following factors: 1) academic variables such as high school GPA, 2) student intent to leave or stay, 3) background and defining variables such as demographics, previous academic performance, and educational goals, and 4) environmental factors outside of institutional control. The models developed by Tinto (1975, 1987, 1993) and Bean and Metzner (1985) are suitable for examining incarcerated student integration and persistence as these students have similar experiences. Certain elements of the above mentioned models of student integration and persistence were applicable to the incarcerated students in this study.

Self-determination theory is a motivation theory that addresses goal-directed behavior (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000). The theory explains that humans have innate psychological needs. Deci and Ryan (2000) note that humans have three basic needs: 1) autonomy, 2) competence, and 3) relatedness. Autonomy is the individual need to have control over choices and actions. Competence is the need to have a sense of mastery or a perception of being adept. Relatedness refers to the need for a sense of belonging through positive relationships. The foundation of the theory is that people are motivated by interests that provide satisfaction of those three basic needs (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000). Self-determination theory is appropriate for examining incarcerated students’ motivation for enrolling in correctional education programs. Deci and Ryan (2000) noted that the three basic needs are needed by all humans regardless of culture or background. If these innate psychological needs are not met, negative psychological consequences will result. The theory implies that when incarcerated students have all three basic psychological needs met, they become internally motivated which in turn increases academic performance.


A qualitative, case study methodology was employed to study the lived experiences of seven incarcerated students. The primary participants were enrolled in GED, HiSET, and special education programs. Semi-structured interviews were the primary means of data collection. Students were asked to answer a brief profile questionnaire and a set of 18 open-ended questions related to their motivation to attend classes, educational goals, perspectives of the education program, and expectations post-release. Data was also collected from non-verbal observations, profile questionnaires, prison documents, interviews with correctional education staff and informal conversations. The study was conducted during the fall 2017 semester at a medium security correctional facility in Louisiana. A purposeful sampling procedure was used. Pre-determined inclusion criteria were also used in the study. The criteria for participating in the study were intended to obtain research participants with successful higher or adult education experiences during incarceration. The inclusion criteria for incarcerated student participants were as follows:

Incarcerated males in Louisiana

Must have enrolled in one or more courses through the correctional education program

Must be able to read at a 6th grade level or higher

Must be 18 years or older

At least half of the sample must have the possibility of parole

The primary research question for the study was: How do incarcerated students perceive their correctional education experience? Interview questions in this study place emphasis on the lived experiences of people in prison and how their experiences impact educational decisions. Student perceptions about course offerings, classroom environments, and instructors were all taken into account. Lastly, interview questions aimed to gauge student perceptions on how correctional education program experiences translate to post-release success.


Three student themes emerged from the data: 1) Barriers to Education, 2) Motivation, and 3) Self-Reflection. The first theme, “Barriers to Education”, focuses on issues that hindered students from completing high school prior to incarceration. Students described various obstacles which lead to high school dropout. They described internal and external influences which prevented educational attainment. The second theme, “Motivation”, refers to factors that influenced students to join the correctional education program. In addition, students also shared motivational factors that encouraged them to persist in the education program. Factors such as internal motivation and family served as encouragement to attend correctional education courses. The third theme, “Self-reflection”, is based on students’ thoughts and feelings about their educational experiences. Students critically reflected on their learning experiences from the past, their current experience, and future expectations. Each of the student themes addresses how students make meaning of their correctional education experience.

Barriers to Education

All student participants lacked a high school diploma upon entry to prison. Participants shared their thoughts on factors that prevented them from achieving educational attainment prior to incarceration. Individual factors related to students’ backgrounds prevented them from obtaining a high school diploma prior to incarceration. Students reflected on internal and external factors which contributed to school dropout.

Internal influences included pride, lack of effort, self-doubt, anxiety, shame, and priorities. Participants spoke of these influences. Lou described his experience as an older student returning to adult education. He shared that he was apprehensive about returning to school after being out of school for almost 40 years. Lou recalled his first thoughts when starting the program: “I’m not going to be able to keep up. They gone be writing fast and I’m gone be writing slow.” Bob discussed how his lack of effort created a barrier to educational attainment. Bob did not recognize the importance of an education until later in life. When he was younger, his focus was on other things. So, he put little to no effort into his school work. Bob says when he should have been focusing on school, he was: “…worrying about being a bad boy or chasing girls.” He mentioned that he was always a “knuckle head” getting in trouble at school, but it was not until he was sent to prison that he realized he needed to get serious about his life direction. Jim indicated that he experienced difficulty with some of the classroom assignments. He recalled being very prideful and reluctant to ask for help. In this statement, he shares how he overcame issues of pride: “Now that I am taking math, I have to really study for it. I have to ask them to help me with it. If I don’t apply myself, I’m not going to get it.” Don noted that he was not initially motivated to learn. However, he was enthusiastic about receiving a completion certificate. When Don first enrolled in correctional education, he was more focused on the end result of the program as opposed to the required curriculum for completion. Don stated: “Now that I take classes, I try to get something out of it.”

External influences primarily included people in the students’ immediate environment such as family, friends, and teachers. As an example, some participants mentioned that they started selling drugs because they needed money to support themselves and their families. Drug money was a quick way to provide income for some of the participants. Other participants mentioned falling into the wrong crowd of friends who encouraged negative behaviors. Don stated that most of his friends were into the “drug life” and influenced him to sell drugs. He recalled struggling academically and not receiving support from his teachers. Instead of support, Don stated his teachers would speak negatively to him. He recalled interactions with his teachers in the past: “They (teachers) wasn’t doing nothing…telling me I ain’t gone be nothing.” The combined impact of peer pressure and lack of instructor support ultimately led Don to drop out of high school. Jim also shared his experience with peers from high school. Jim shared that his friends were very supportive, maybe too supportive. Jim was very popular in school and he received a great deal of support from his friends. His friends would actually complete his homework for him. In this example, Jim had a very strong support system. However, it negatively impacted his educational experience because he was not learning important course material which ultimately led to academic failure. One of the primary reasons Lou stopped attending school was to help take care of his sick mother. He described how his mother, a single parent, became extremely ill and had to stop working. Lou dropped out of school when he was just in the eighth grade. He started working at a grocery store to help pay bills at home. As the oldest sibling, he took on a lot of adult responsibilities including being the primary caregiver for his mother and his two younger siblings.


Students in this study indicated several motivating factors for enrolling in the correctional education program. They addressed how they have been encouraged during their correctional education experience. Students were self-motivated and also noted being motivated by family, peers, and staff.

Participating in correctional education programs was voluntary at the facility. Attending classes was not a requirement of sentencing for any of the students in this study. Therefore, motivation stemmed from non-mandatory factors. All student participants indicated that they were motivated to participate in correctional education because of a need to improve their current situation. Ace spoke on why he chose to enroll in classes: “I’m trying to better myself. You can’t be a [sic] offender all your life.” Similarly, Jim described his thoughts on why he enrolled in classes: “While I’m in here incarcerated, I’m just saying to myself I’m going to go ahead and get it (diploma)…I want to have this accomplishment. It (school) keeps me out of trouble.”

The sentiments of Ace and Jim echoed the sentiments of all other students in this study. In this statement, Bob notes that in order for a person to truly get the most out of the education program, they have to be self-motivated: “You have to want this for yourself. Ain’t nobody gone do it for you.” Since attending class was not part of a mandatory sentencing for the students in this study, self-motivation played an important role.

Family ties had a significant impact on decision making for students in this study. The family member found to have the most influence on student decision making was the mother. Ace described why he was taking classes and will not fall into the trap of reincarceration: “My momma getting too old. I’ll break her heart if I did that again.” Likewise, Bob talked about his delinquent past and disappointing his mother: “I’ve been a mess-up all my life. My mom, she’s getting older and I messed up really big this time, so I want to give her something to be proud of.” Lou’s mother passed away while he was incarcerated. He noted that while she was living she wanted him to finish school so he is going back to school to honor his mother’s wishes. Other family members also had a significant influence on enrollment for students in this study. Pat initially had no intention of going back to school while incarcerated. Conversations with his uncle and cousin during a prison visit helped Pat make the decision to enroll. Both Pat and Lou noted that they also enrolled to set better examples for their grandchildren.

Peer support was influential in motivating students to not only enroll in correctional education classes, but to persist as well. More specifically, peer mentorship was an important component of the program for students. Many of the tutors in the correctional education program are incarcerated. Students reported that having peer-led instruction helped to motivate them and increase their self-esteem. Ken credits peer support for keeping him on track in school. He addresses the peer support from incarcerated tutors in the program: My tutors, they incarcerated just like me. So if I do get distracted, they gone really tell me man, you messing up right now…they know how to make it to where you can really understand.” In this statement, Pat refers to the comradery amongst his peers: “The guys in class, we all get along good. We keep each other laughing and help out.” Lou, a 53- year old student in the GED program, stated it was his younger classmates who really supported him. Lou was ashamed when he first enrolled in correctional education courses because he was significantly older than all the other students in his class. Lou noted that his younger peers were extremely encouraging and their encouragement made him feel more comfortable participating in class.

Correctional education faculty, staff, and administrators influenced students’ decisions to persist in the correctional education program. Respect, appreciation, and admiration for faculty and administration in the correctional education program at the prison was evident amongst student participants. Bob said that his instructors were “awesome”. As a HiSET graduate, he provided feedback on administration, instructors, and the overall program: “As far as the way they running this place (the education program), they do a great job.” He specifically recalled an instructor who understood the state of incarceration: He’s (instructor) really in tune with the reality of prison and how we live in here. He basically knows how the whole system runs inside and outside… He’s really genuinely concerned about these guys getting their education.” Don described his relationship with his instructors: “I like my teachers. Everybody loves me.” Don added: “They motivate me. They pressure me into doing better.” In discussing some of his academic challenges in the program, Ken indicated that his instructors were very helpful: “They give me a lot of help, one-on-one help.” Ace admits when he first entered the correctional education program, he did not have a favorable view of his instructors. He discussed one in-structor who he felt spoke to students in a condescending manner. Ace said the instructor made negative assumptions about students’ academic abilities. At that time, Ace judged all his instructors based on his interactions with that one instructor. He even considered quitting the program. Now, he has a different perspective of his instructors: “At first I thought they were trying to fail us and treat us like children. But now, I like my teachers.”


Students were asked to reflect on their educational experiences over the years. They shared their thoughts and feelings regarding their experiences. Students discussed ways in which they matured, had an increase in self-esteem, and established goals for themselves.

Like many people who return to school as adults, the students in this study expressed regret for some of the choices they made earlier in life. The students discussed regret, life lessons, and how they have matured. Ace discussed how through the process of self-actualization, he realized just how far he had come along in the program. In this statement, Ace remarks on how he surprised himself by how much he has learned in the correctional education program: “I just really be surprised by how much stuff I really knew [sic] if I just sit down and do it.” Bob has learned that if he wants to be successful he has to put in the time and effort. In his statement, Bob explains that he had difficulty in school previously due to lack of commitment: “When I was in school back then, I couldn’t understand hardly. I didn’t take the time to learn. Now that I am here I have nothing but time.”

Participating in correctional education helped to boost students’ self-esteem. Ace was astonished to learn how much of the course material he remembered from when he was in school previously. The correctional education experience has caused him to learn more about himself. He’s interested in areas of academic study that he never thought he would be interested in before. Similarly, self-doubt was something that Don struggled with when he first started taking classes. He was unsure if he would be able to successfully complete his school assignments. Don has went from being functionally illiterate to reading every day. Don is now a mentor in a program that is geared towards outreach for young adults.

In addition to attending regular classes in the educational program, two study participants were routinely involved in service learning organizations. Service learning projects help to encourage moral development of students. Both students mentioned thoroughly enjoying the experience of learning outside the classroom. Service learning has the potential to shape the way students view and interpret the world. For example, Lou was having difficulty with his class readings. However, he noted that when he worked with the mission he was able to read and interpret the Bible fine. Lou was better able to connect to the biblical literature because it was something that grasped his interest. He discovered that he was not focusing on the class readings because the subjects did not interest him. He possessed the ability to read, but the desire was not there. In this case, service learning helped Lou make meaning of his reading experiences.

Post-release expectations varied among participants. However, all participants in this study were looking forward to being released from prison and rejoining their families. Immediate goals for all participants included completing their current educational program and being released from prison, but not necessarily in that order. Jim and Lou expected to be paroled within a year from the time the study was conducted. Both students indicated that if they do not complete their education during incarceration, they will sign up for GED/HiSET programs at schools in their respective hometowns. In this statement, Lou describes how he likes school, has become comfortable with learning, and plans to continue school: “If I don’t get my GED here, I’m not gone stop because I got used to getting to going in here.” Five of the study participants indicated that once they complete their current educational program, they were interested in attending college. Four of the five were interested in studying business. More specifically, management and real estate were of interest to participants. Other areas of academic interests included film, architecture, and nursing. Two students were interested in attending vocational school. Welding and brick masonry were the vocational interests.

Discussion and Implications

The incarcerated students in the study perceived their participation in correctional education as a positive experience overall, though some students admitted to struggling in the beginning. Evidence in the data demonstrated that many of the participants were nervous about going back to school. They were unsure of their academic abilities. Research indicates that adult learners can feel uncertain about their learning experiences in the beginning (Knowles, 1980). Self-efficacy, a component of social learning theory, refers to an individual’s belief in themselves (Bandura, 1995). Researchers indicate that incarcerated students can have low levels of self-efficacy due to the nature of the prison environment (Allred, et. al., 2013). Now, students enjoy coming to school and appreciate the opportunity. Participant insights revealed that participation in the correctional education program made students feel good about themselves and their accomplishments. Self-determination theory suggests that people want to feel competent in their abilities (Deci & Ryan, 2000). For some participants, attending classes has increased their confidence in their own academic abilities.
Students were thankful for the educational offerings and the opportunity to increase their educational attainment. On average, incarcerated people are less educated than the general population (Davis, et al., 2013). This means that when many incarcerated persons are released from prison, they will attempt to reintegrate into society less educated than their counterparts. Moreover, they will compete for jobs against more educated people without incarceration records. Educational offerings such as those at the institution in the study help to somewhat even the playing field for incarcerated individuals prior to release. Numerous studies suggest that correctional education programs aid in improving employment outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals (Center on Crime, Community, and Culture,1997; Davis, et al., 2013; Hrabowski & Robbi, 2002; Hull et al., 2000; Jenkins, et al., 1995; Stana, 1993).

The findings illustrate that students perceived the correctional education program as a way to overcome personal and academic obstacles. Attending classes helped to keep students out of trouble. For instance, Don shared that he can now read, and he is no longer selling drugs. Although, there are negative happenings in the prison, the influence of the correctional education program encourages positive behaviors. Research suggests that academic and social integration influence learning outcomes and encourages student persistence (Astin, 1993; Tinto, 1995). Social learning theory suggests that individuals are influenced by their environment (Bandura, 1995). Moreover, learning occurs through social interactions and observations of others. It is important to note that based on social learning theory, behaviors can either be positively or negatively influenced. Jim highlights the fact that there are several opportunities for him to become involved in negative happenings at the prison, but he chooses to take part in positive happenings like correctional education instead. Often in a setting like prison, learned behaviors are negative (Bandura, 1995; Allred, et. al., 2013). However, evidence in this study reveals that correctional education influences such as instructor behavior, peer mentorship, and the school environment have positively influenced students in this study. This implies that role modeling in the correctional education environment is important. Correctional education staff should demonstrate role model behaviors as well as pair students up with peer mentors who will set a positive example for students.

Study findings also signified that direct experience with service learning can foster transformative learning. Mezirow (1997) noted that service learning activities highlight the way students make meaning of their experience and can lead to transformative learning experiences. Moreover, self-determination theory suggests that service learning activities satisfy students’ basic need to feel a sense of belong (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Correctional education instructors can enhance the learning experience by developing co-curricular activities and academic events outside the classroom that engage students academically and socially.

Planning a course of action is an important phase in the transformative learning process (Mezirow, 1997). Students in this study shared ways in which they plan to proceed after release from prison. Students’ career and employment expectations after release varied among participants. Several of the study participants wanted to open their own businesses. Similar to students in this study, results in a previous study by Hall (2006) also found evidence that incarcerated students had aspirations of becoming entrepreneurs. Student participants in this study were interested in opening businesses in the following areas: clothing/shoe stores, a drug addiction support center, and a nighttime entertainment establishment. Other career interests were associated with the following fields of work: auto sales, concert promotion, nursing, public speaking, and real estate. Some participants were also interested in returning to fields of work in which they had previous experience such as brick masonry, framing houses, welding, and oil rig operation. In addition to career and employment expectations, some students in the study stated they were interested in attending college after release. Some were interested in attending universities while others were interested in trade school.

The incarcerated students in this study were motivated to enroll in the correctional education program in a variety of ways including but not limited to: self-motivation, family, peers, and staff impact. Study results indicated that students were self-motivated. According to self-determination theory, autonomous motivation is going to yield higher performance because motivation is not controlled by outside factors (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Self-determination theory also suggests that people have a need to be autonomous, a need to be skilled at a particular task, and a need for belonging. To improve the incarcerated student performance, educators could incorporate student choice into the classroom such as choice of essay topic. In addition, instructors can provide opportunities for students to demonstrate what they have learned such as class discussions or presentations. Lastly, creating a collaborative learning environment can help students have a sense of belonging.


As previous research has suggested, correctional education programs have a demonstrated ability to aid in the rehabilitation of individuals. To better understand why incarcerated student perceptions are important, it is imperative to note how incarcerated student perceptions about correctional education programs relates to the larger picture for society. Student perceptions impact participation. Student participation in correctional educational programs has several benefits and can lead to transformative learning experiences, less prison over-crowding, restoration in families, more money in the United States economy, lower recidivism rates, increased labor force, fewer taxpayer dollars expended and better citizens. It is important for correctional edu-cation administrators to consider student perspectives when planning correctional education programs.