Adult Education & Family Literacy Week - Recognizing People with Disabilities Behind & Beyond our Prison Walls

This week is Adult Education & Family Literacy Week and we stand up for adult education and recognize the importance of adult literacy across the country. Today, the Correctional & Reentry Community of Practice, along with Disabilities & Equitable Outcomes Community, would like to acknowledge the 2 Million men and women that sit behind our prison walls, and the over 100 million people who have traveled through our justice systems, many also facing the challenges of a physical, cognitive, or behavioral disability. While the exact number of individuals in our justice systems with a disability is not known with certainty, it is estimated that as many as 30% (in our jails) have been diagnosed with a cognitive disability, and up to 60% have an undiagnosed disability often which existed prior to entering the system.

Part of the problem is that our correctional systems do not effectively and consistently identify individuals who have a cognitive disability. The tragedy is that many are directly impacted by the consequences of our failure to treat these individuals before, and even more importantly after release. 

Education can play a very significant role in a person's journey through our justice systems and our inability to recognize and treat cognitive disabilities can have wide ranging effects including: failure to be granted parole, parole revocation, lack of accommodations for academic advancement, ability to complete or enroll in alternative programming, and bias at parole hearings, just to name a few.

The answer is simple: improve our screening and assessment practices for cognitive disabilities, making this a priority for every individual entering our justice system.

Please join me and Mike Cruse today as we take a dive into this subject.






For individuals in the criminal justice system, a lack of secondary education can prevent them from obtaining parole or, if granted parole, can lead to their release being revoked. According to Columbia Human Rights Law Review, it can do so in a few different ways.

First, some state statutes explicitly require incarcerated people to meet specific educational requirements in order to become eligible for parole.

Second, some states, as well as the federal system, require individuals to meet certain educational requirements while incarcerated, and the failure to meet these requirements can be considered against them at parole hearings.

Third, parole boards can impose educational requirements as conditions for parole, and the failure to meet such conditions can lead to the revocation of release.

Do you know what educational barriers exist for incarcerated individuals in your state?  You can find information on your state's corrections department here.



Adult education inside of our prisons and jails has historically taken a backseat to so many other priorities. With 95% of the men and women behind our prison walls eventually coming home, helping to prepare individuals for their return and giving them education and skill training needs to be at the top of that list. With so many individuals facing the challenges of a disability, focusing on assessments and targeted academic support is a really good start.

Thanks Mike for the resources. Anyone else have some resources to share??

Jeff A

In North Dakota, every incoming resident without a high school diploma or GED is required to be enrolled in Adult Education classes with the end goal of obtaining a GED. However, there is no requirement that they obtain the GED before being released, nor are there any parole requirements. 

As a very small state, we don't have as many resources available as larger states and departments. However, in addition to the basic adult ed classes, we do have welding, construction, computer coding (in conjunction with The Last Mile out of California), financial literacy, career readiness, parenting, attitudinal defensive driving, and probably more that I can't think of right now.