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Highlights from the U.S. PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults: Their Skills, Work Experience, Education, and Training

Posted on 12/09/2016

On Nov. 15, 2016, the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics released the latest installment of findings from the Survey of Adult Skills, part of the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). This report, Highlights from the U.S. PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults: Their Skills, Work Experience, Education, and Training External link opens in new window or tab , presents new data collected from a nationally representative sample of incarcerated men and women, ages 18–74, in 98 state and federal prisons in 2014. It describes the literacy and numeracy levels of these adults by age, gender, and ethnicity and compares these findings to the general household population, which was surveyed in 2012 and supplemented in 2014. The survey’s background questionnaire, adapted for the incarcerated population, provides a rich profile of background data, work experiences, and education and training participation patterns while in prison.

Listed below are key findings in literacy and numeracy from the report:

  • The average literacy score for the U.S. prison population was lower than the average literacy score for the U.S. household population, and a higher percentage of incarcerated adults (29 percent) were low-skilled (scored below PIAAC’s Level 2) in literacy compared to adults in the U.S. household population (19 percent).
  • While the average literacy score for incarcerated white adults was lower than the average score for white adults in the U.S. household population, the average literacy scores for incarcerated black and Hispanic adults were not measurably different from the average literacy scores for black and Hispanic adults in the U.S. household population.
  • The average numeracy score for the U.S. prison population was much lower than the average numeracy score for the U.S. household population, putting a higher percentage of incarcerated adults (52 percent) in the low-skilled range compared to adults in the U.S. household population (29 percent).

Echoing findings on skill levels and skill-use patterns in the household survey, incarcerated adults’ skills showed the following interesting findings related to adults’ prior and current work history:

  • Around two-thirds (66 percent) of inmates reported that they were working prior to their incarceration—about half (49 percent) were employed full-time, with another 16 percent working part-time.
  • Adults who were employed prior to their incarcerations had higher average numeracy scores.
  • Incarcerated adults holding a prison job had higher average literacy scores than their peers who did not have a prison job. Yet many incarcerated workers reported that their jobs did not require the use of literacy and numeracy skills on a regular basis.
  • Those with skills certifications scored higher on literacy and numeracy than their peers without such certifications.

Previous research from the Rand Corporation External link opens in new window or tab and the U.S. Department of Education External link opens in new window or tab has shown the value of education and training in prison and the value of industry-recognized credentials to reduce recidivism. The U.S. PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults sheds light on how incarcerated adults are participating—or not—as follows:

  • Fifty-eight percent of incarcerated adults completed no further formal education beyond the level they had on their entry to prison, and 21 percent obtained a high school credential during their current period of incarceration.
  • For incarcerated adults, more education completed was associated with higher skills in both literacy and numeracy.
  • Twenty-one percent of incarcerated adults were studying for a formal degree or credential.
  • The most desirable educational programs for incarcerated adults who wanted to enroll in academic programs were those which offered a certificate from college or trade school (29 percent). High school completion (18 percent) and associate’s degree programs (18 percent) were the next most popular.
  • Seventy percent reported that they wanted to enroll in an academic class or program, but twenty-five percent of these adults were on a waiting list for academic classes or programs of study in 2014.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 600,000 individuals are released from prison each year in the United States. From the Highlights from the U.S. PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults, more than half of incarcerated adults had two years or less remaining on their sentences (54 percent), with about one in five (19 percent) having fewer than six months left to serve.All related PIACC survey reports are available at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/ External link opens in new window or tab.

Source: OCTAE Connection External link opens in new window or tab 524, November 17 2016

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