What Re-Entry Services Can Do to Strengthen the Basic Skills of Former Inmates

I want to invite you to review the resource What Re-Entry Services Can Do to Strengthen the Basic Skills of Former Inmates. Developed by The Open Door Collective, this resource is designed to help programs provide services to formerly incarcerated individuals and help them successfully transition to work, family, and civic roles. This guide will help you understand: (a) the central role that basic skills and related educational credentials can play in successful prisoner re-entry and (b) how reentry agencies can collaborate with basic education providers to help returnees develop necessary basic skills. It is also written for basic education providers, policymakers, and funders interested in supporting collaborations among reentry and adult basic skills service providers. 

While this guide includes examples of how  agencies can contribute to the planning and delivery of services, I'd love to hear what your doing.

Kathy Tracey


Join us on December 4th as we introduce our new monthy events, Casual Conversations. Ths month, we will feature guests Paul Jurmo and Margaret Patterson as they provide more insight into the resource What Re-Entry Services Can Do to Strengthen the Basic Skills of Former Inmatates. 

The conversation will be held on this thread and we will pose some questions for our experts. If you have any questions or thoughts to add, chime in during the asynchronous discussion!  We will focus on this resource, the Open Door Collective, and additoinal research briefs related to re-entry and basic skill development.

The remaining part of the week, we are inviting community members to share their practical applications of the research shared.

I'm looking forward to the discussion and hearing from you. 

Kathy Tracey

Good morning colleagues, 

I want to thank our guests Paul Jurmo and Margaret Patterson for shedding some more light on the resources shared in this thread. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to share! 

Let's start with a broad overview of the issue at hand, the potential lack of basic skills for returning citizens.
A lack of basic skills and related credentials (e.g., high school equivalency, post-secondary certificates and diplomas) has major implications for returning citizens, their families, and local communities (e.g., in terms of public health, public safety, and economic development). How do you define this issue?

I'm looking forward the discussion. 

Kathy Tracey

Hello, Everyone.  Let me jump in (based on my experience and research in this issue): 

Basic skills (i.e., oral and written English and other fundamental skills such as numeracy, problem-solving, collaboration, research, digital literacy) and related credentials (e.g., high school equivalency, post-secondary diplomas . . .) are key resources that adults and out-of-school youth need to participate effectively in work, family, and civic roles.  

These basic-skills-related tools are especially important for individuals with criminal records, as they face significant barriers to employment, managing personal and family responsibilities (e.g., housing, transportation, health), and participating in community institutions (e.g., voting).  Complicating this further is the fact that incarcerated individuals have a higher likelihood of lower levels of basic skills and educational attainment.

This confluence of high need and lower assets have major implications for those individuals with criminal records, for their families (especially for their children, who are at higher risk of poor educational attainment and engaging in criminal behavior), and for the safety, health, and well-being (e.g., health, safety, economic viability, social cohesion) of their communities.  

In sum, those concerned about adult basic skills and those concerned about helping transition individuals with criminal records to more productive lives have overlapping interests and should be talking and working with each other. 



Thanks for posting these thought-provoking questions, Kathy! The first idea that came to mind was a citation from a recent PIAAC paper I wrote on incarcerated adults with low skills: "Once released, many incarcerated adults return to some of the most impoverished – and stressed – communities in the USA (Brazzell et al., 2009)." Other researchers cited in the paper found "negative effects from widespread incarceration of adults that also extend to non-incarcerated members. Community members who hadn’t been incarcerated experienced overall health and mental health challenges simply by living in impoverished neighborhood with high rates of incarceration. Incarcerated adults return to neighborhoods in which anxiety, tension, and hypervigilance are prevalent and beneficial social relationships are limited."

Coming home after incarceration to communities under high stress - whether from poverty, violence, or illness - compounds the challenges of the re-entering adult getting a job or further education. It would be great to add the voices of adult learners to this conversation, to hear their perspectives. I'd like to ask others on the list about experiences of re-entering adult learners and how community stress affected their role, or their progress, in adult learning.



Thanks Paul and Margaret for sharing this thought provoking information. 

Considering the multiple challenges faced by returning citizens, what might adult educators and other stakeholders provide to most effectively support returning inmates? and as an additional thought, how do we provide these services in an integrated fashion so students can benefit? 


Hello Kathy, Paul, Margaret, and others,

Kathy, you asked about providing (adult basic skills) services to formerly incarcerated adults "in an integrated fashion. "

I think there are at least two kinds of integration needed:

1) Wraparound services. Adult basic skills services need to be integrated with other needed services for formerly incarcerated adults such as housing assistance,  job readiness training and advising, job placement, transportation, digital inclusion, child care, health care, legal, individual and family counseling, and other needed services, in what is sometimes referred to as "wraparound services."

2) Inside/outside education services integration. Education services provided "inside", in prison or jail, need to be integrated with education services provided outside, in the community. One way to do this is with a blended learning program that provides online courses and/or apps accompanied by face to face classes, tutoring or learning circles using the same online learning program on the inside and in the community. This can be challenging, as not every prison and jail offers inmates access to the Internet, but there are some solutions that use close monitoring of inmates' use of the Internet, or put the entire learning management system in a closed "Internet in a Box" system. If the purpose of corrections is to "correct,"  "rehabilitate," or "help inmates to be successful citizens" then, in addition to reading, writing and numeracy, digital skills -- including comfort, competence and competence in using online learning -- are all essential sets of skills to achieve this purpose. 

David J. Rosen


Hello, again, everyone

Many adult basic skills programs are already serving individuals with criminal records and are familiar with the above-described challenges those individuals face.  Over the past four decades, very positive program models have been developed which help inmates and returned citizens develop the basic skills, educational credentials, support systems, self-efficacy, and educational and life plans they need to positively integrate into the family, community, and work roles.  These models typically consist of various forms of collaboration between adult educators and other stakeholders (e.g., parole offices, community-based groups, workforce development and public health agencies).  

Collaborations can include;

(a) basic skills curricula integrated with helping learners effectively deal with work, health, family, and other challenges;

(b) providing such educational services in correctional and re-entry centers and in diverse adult ed program settings;

(c) coordinating education services with other useful services (e.g., parole; public safety, job counseling and placement; outreach to employers and labor unions; health services housing, legal, family, and transportation supports . . . ) through ongoing strategic planning and collaboration across agencies that might otherwise work in isolation with each other;

(d) making education programs user-friendly for individuals with criminal records and similarly making correctional services more user-friendly for individuals with basic skills challenges;  

(e) joint awareness-raising, advocacy, and development of in-kind and financial resources by education, re-entry, and other stakeholders concerned about these intertwined issues;

(e) joint research and evaluation (including case studies of current efforts and piloting of new ones) to provide evidence of need for such services and of promising practices for ongoing continuous improvement; and

(f) cross-training of staff from various stakeholder groups on the why’s and how’s of collaborative efforts.  

Readers are encouraged to chime in here with examples and questions related to the above.  (This LINCS Discussion Group has good examples, but it would be great to hear more from others today). 


To follow up on collaboration example "a" above, here are some examples of curricula used in a "day reporting center'' where recently-released inmates received a number of services.  These services included job-readiness activities which integrated practice in various kinds of Equipped for the Future basic skills (including oral and written communications, research, problem-solving, and digital literacy) with strategies for finding, attaining, and succeeding in employment.  

-- Job-search skills: Adult education instructors asked learners to identify jobs they might be interested on pursuing.  Learners then browsed on the web (something new to many of the learners) to learn more about one job of particular interested.  They then created very simple PowerPoints (illiustrated with relevant clip art) containing basic information about their chosen jobs.  Each learner made a presentation of his PPT and then class members discussed issues raised in the PowerPoints.

-- Dealing with obstacles:  In that same program, learners discussed obstacles that made work and other tasks difficult.  transportation was a common problem for many, as they lacked cars, driver's licenses, and knowledge of public transportation they would need to get to job interviews, medical appointments, meetings with parole officers, etc.  Using the same web browsing and PPT skills described in the previous example, learners researched public transportation options and presented PPTs summarizing key information about, for example, bus routes they might use. Classmates applauded their colleagues' presentations, asked questions, made suggestions.  (They also competed to see who could come up with the best graphics for their PowerPoints!)

These kinds of activities helped hard-to-serve learners develop a range of basic skills, positive attitudes,  relevant technical knowledge, and problem-solving and teamwork strategies to apply to challenges they were facing.  They took place in a computer classroom that the community college partner set up in the day reporting center, using used (but refurbished and well-functioning) computers previously used in other college programs.

This kind of integrated, customized, relevant instruction takes time and well-equipped facilitiesl to organize, and is consistent with good adult basic skills education guidelines. It also relies on outstanding instructors who are empathetic, knowledgeable about good instructional methods, able to deal with sometimes hard-to-serve learners, and creative and resilient.  It also requires leadership with a vision, persistence, and resources to try and sustain something new.

Other examples are welcomed! 




-- Digital skills:  The adult education program (run by a community college) set up a computer lab in the day reporting center, using used (but refurbished) computers previously used in other college programs.  Adult ed program staff led participants in discussions about possible jobs they might pursue, then had learners go on-line (something many of the learners had never done before) to learn more about those jobs.  Learners then created simple PowerPoint presentations containing very basic information about a potential job and then presented those PowerPoints (illustrated with clip art that they learned how to find and download) to their fellow learners and the instructors.  In the process, learners were developing web-browsing and PPT skills, research skills, presentation skills, and knowledge about potential jobs.  They also were developing self-efficacy related to moving forward with their lives and the ability to work with others.  

-- Strategies for dealing with obstacles:  In those same integrated work-readiness classes, learners tackled the question of "what obstacles block my success and how can I deal with them?"   For many of the recently-released individuals, transportation was a big issue.  To get to jobs or meetings with parole officers or medical appointments, they had to deal with the fact that they lacked a car, weren't familiar with public transportation options, and/opr lacked a driver's license.  For those learners, they did on-line research about local bus routes and then presented what they learned (e.g., bus route numbers, schedules, fares, relevant bus stops) in a PowerPoint illustrated with photos of appropriate landmarks or vehicles.  





Hi again, concerning education services that support re-entering adults, I wanted to share a resource from the Open Door Collective. This resource makes the case that Education in Adult Basic Skills Can Contribute to Reducing Incarceration and Alleviating Poverty

This brief states that "formerly incarcerated individuals cite education, job training, and employment as vital needs not generally met during incarceration or after release. Yet, providing incarcerated individuals with the education, job skills, and resources required to avoid reoffending can save public resources in the long run by reducing recidivism and by contributing to the alleviation of second-generation poverty. Although not the only contributor, education is a key piece in the system providing resources to support incarcerated individuals toward re-entry success. The Open Door Collective asserts that adult basic skills matter for the criminal justice and re-entry systems."

To the "how" part of the question... in addition to what Paul and David offered, I would add a major objective is to increase re-entering adult participation in adult education both before and after re-entry. Adult educators can build connections with local re-entry programs to encourage re-entering adults to start (or continue) learning. Even though many facilities offer education services on the inside, not many incarcerated adults take advantage of them, so the need for recruitment is real. From the brief: "Only approximately 2% of state and federal prisoners participate in ABE and an estimated 20% participate in ASE...participants in ABE and high school equivalency (HSE) programs were almost one and a half times as likely to experience reduced recidivism compared with nonparticipants."

Recruitment messages need to communicate to re-entering adults "what's in it for them" - to make the connection with skills they need to get a job, stay healthy, and thrive in family life. 

Looking forward to learning what others have tried,


Hi, all,

Coincidentally, an announcement about a webinar on Equipping Individuals for Life Beyond Bars, from PIAAC Gateway, just came out that is really relevant to this discussion - please see below...



Equipping Individuals for Life Beyond Bars: 
The Promise of Higher Education & Job Training in Closing the Gap in Skills for Incarcerated Adults

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
 1:00 P.M. – 2:00 P.M. (EST)


Register Here


Image removed.As the overwhelming majority of those in U.S. prisons will rejoin society, it is imperative to prepare individuals to transition with effective rehabilitative programs. Using the 2012/2014 U.S. PIAAC Household and 2014 Prison Surveys, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), this report seeks to facilitate conversations around the potential of correctional postsecondary education and job training programs as tools to mitigate the gap in skills and employment challenges for justice-involved individuals. The report includes results related to the following questions:



·What is the participation and completion rates in postsecondary education and/or job training for incarcerated adults?

·Does approaching reentry increase the likelihood of incarcerated adults enrolling in/completing postsecondary programs and/or participating in job training?

·What is the range of skills that incarcerated adults possess and how does this compare to the general public?

·How does the skill level of incarcerated adults approaching reentry (fewer than two years) compare to the general public?

·Does participating in/completing postsecondary education and/or job training in prison have an effect on adults' skills? 





Monique O. Ositelu, Ph.D.
Senior Policy Analyst, Higher Education
Education Policy Program, New America


Ruth Delaney
Program Manager
Vera Institute for Justice


Emily Pawlowski
Research Associate
American Institutes for Research

Featured Resources:

Online Version of Report

Full Report (PDF version) 

Research Brief 

Higher Education in Prison Infographic

Job Training in Prison Infographic

U.S. PIAAC Prison Study Data

For more information on PIAAC, visit the PIAAC Gateway
Don't miss it! Use this link to register and join us on Tuesday, December 10th at 1pm (EST).




Paul and Margaret,

Thank you for spending your day with us and answering some questions about re-entry education and basic skills instruction. I'd like to close today with learning about any sources of information (e.g., studies, policies, program models, documentaries, podcasts) that you would recommend as resources for adult educators, returning citizens, and other stakeholders interested in strengthening and expanding supports to help inmates successfully transition to life after incarceration. 


Kathy Tracey


Thanks, Kathy, for the opportunity to participate in today's discussion and others on the LINCS discussion group on Correctional and Reentry Education. 

Education services for individuals challenged by criminal records should be a priority for adult educators, re-entry advocates, and the individuals and communities we serve.  This Discussion Group and the Correctional and Reentry Education Resource Collection are important resources.  

To respond to your third and last question for the day, here are some resources:

Keep up the good work, everyone!

 Paul Jurmo.


Keep up the good work, everyone!





Thank you, Kathy, for inviting us, and Paul and David for your contributions! I would join in encouraging everyone to visit the Open Door Collective website for the briefs Paul mentioned, PIAAC Gateway for several recent research reports employing the PIAAC Prison survey data, and the LINCS Re-entry Toolkit. Another useful set of resource is the CSG Justice Center Reentry Myth Busters

I'm looking forward to checking back for community member responses this week. Thanks again - I wish everyone the happiest of holidays,