Bright Hopes, Dim Realities

Vocational Innovation in American Correctional Education

by Steven L. Schlossman, Joseph Spillane


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To shed new light on the history of correctional education in America and on the implications of that history for reform in correctional education in the 1990s, this Note identifies some general tendencies in the history of correctional education in the 19th and 20th centuries, and reinterprets the contributions of the famous prison superintendent, Zebulon Brockway, to correctional education. The authors also use a case study of the New York State Vocational Institution to examine the enormous difficulties that have bedeviled even the best-designed and well-intentioned efforts to transform prisons into institutions of vocational training. Among their conclusions, the authors find that (1) the 1980s were not propitious for innovation in correctional education, as the period lacked an ideological consensus favoring rehabilitation over punishment; (2) corrections has not always been the enormous drain on local, state, and federal treasuries that it has become in recent years; (3) vocational education has been inappropriately cast as an either-or, inflexible substitute for remunerative prison labor; and (4) vocational education is an intrinsically unstable innovation in correctional institutions, since constituencies outside the prisons care more about the products, and their remunerative value, than about preserving the integrity of the training program itself.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Note series. The note was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1979 to 1993 that reported other outputs of sponsored research for general distribution.

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