Influence of Christian Programs on the Academic Achievement of Low-Literate Male Inmates, The

Influence of Christian Programs on the Academic Achievement of Low-Literate Male Inmates, The

Messemer, Jonathan E

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to measure whether Christian programs had a positive influence on the academic achievement of low-literate male inmates. The sample consisted of 124 male inmates in a closed security prison in the southeastern United States who were participating in an Adult Basic Education (ABE) program. The researcher grouped the sample into two categories: (1) Christian inmates [n=55] and (2) non-Christian inmates [n=69]. The findings of this study found that the inmates in both sub-groups had achieved statistically significant learning gains in the reading, math, and language skill areas. In addition, this study found that the Christian inmates had statistically significant greater learning gains in the reading and language skill areas than the non-Christian inmates. The Christian inmates had greater learning gains in math than the non-Christian inmates, but the differences in learning gain scores was found to be not statistically significant. This study found that the Christian inmates had statistically significant lower rates of disciplinary absenteeism in the ABE program than the non-Christian inmates. The rate of disciplinary absenteeism was a statistically significant predictor in determining the amount of learning gains the inmates would make in the reading and language skill areas.

“We need religion and education to change attitudes and to change the hearts of men.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Commencement Address at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, June 6, 1961

Introduction

The history of American adult education dates back to the Colonial period when the emphasis was on the three subject areas of reading, writing, and math. The purpose of adult literacy during this time-period was to teach people to read so that they could read the Bible and understand the word of Cod (Merriam & Brockett, 1997; Stubblefield & Keane, 1994). The Puritans believed that it was important to be educated in the biblical history of the world and to have an understanding as to the principles set forth by Cod with regard to how one should live. The Puritans saw adult literacy as a means of insuring that individuals would understand their sinful nature, repent of their sins to God, and thus gain salvation. According to Stubblefield and Keane (1994), ‘parents felt obligated to be literate, not just for their own salvation, but in order to teach their own children’ (p. 23). This form of adult literacy transformed the early curriculum of correctional education. In many prisons during the late 1700s, a local chaplain would often provide inmates with Bibles and volunteer his/her time to teach them to read. The chaplains hoped that the inmates would be able to read the Bible, understand their sins, seek forgiveness from God, and become productive law-abiding citizens (Gehring, 1995).

Currently, the field of correctional education provides numerous programs for inmates that include adult basic education (ABE), general education development (GED), college, vocational, self-help, pre-release, and so on. Nearly all prisons have chaplains from various faiths who offer formal and informal religious programs to the inmates. The academic and religious programs follow the same behaviorist theory in that both programs hope to create a change in the future behaviors of the inmates upon release from prison. Adult educators In prison seek to create change by providing knowledge and skill based programs to inmates, whereas prison chaplains seek to create change by changing the heart of the inmates.

Less than 20% of the inmates in the United States hold a high school diploma or GED (Wolford, 1989). Kozol (1985) and Werner (1990) both estimate that between 50-60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate. What makes these statistics more alarming is that more than 630,000 state and federal inmates in the United State are paroled each year (Nolan, 2004). Therefore, without the intervention of a comprehensive rehabilitation program, the overwhelming majority of the inmates will be returning to prison in the near future. There are currently numerous academic and religious programs operating throughout the United States prison system seeking to address this dilemma.

Related Studies

An extensive review of the literature found only a few empirical studies in correctional education that involve either low-literate inmate learning gains or the influence faith-based programming had upon the lives of Inmates. All of the studies that the researcher found concentrated on just one of the subject areas. The researcher did not find one study that combined both subject areas, thus looking at the influence faith-based programs had upon inmate learning gains. The researcher will discuss the literature found for both subject-areas independently.

Empirical Studies on Inmate Learning Cains

The researcher found five empirical studies that addressed the learning gains of inmates participating in an adult literacy program. Each of the five empirical studies measured the learning gains of inmates using different types of data and a wide range of participants. The researcher will briefly discuss the findings for each of the five empirical studies.

Sandman and Welch (1978) conducted a study of 179 male and female inmates between the ages of 12 – 21 years who participated in a computerassisted literacy program within three Minnesota prisons. This study consolidated the sample into three distinct groups, depending upon the number of hours each inmate had spent in the classroom. This study measured learning gains by looking at the difference between the pre-test and post-test raw scores for both the reading and math components of the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE). Sandman and Welch found that inmates at some of the prison facilities had statistically significant (p

Meyer, Ory, and Hinckley (1983) conducted a study of 359 male inmates participating in an adult literacy program within six prison facilities in Illinois. Learning gains were derived from the differences between the pre-test and posttest grade-level scores for the reading, math, and language sections of the TABE. Findings from a t test suggested that the inmates had statistically significant learning gains in reading, math, and language, with the larger gains coming in language and math rather than reading. A multiple regression (n=93) found a statistically significant correlation between the inmates’ language grade-level gains scores and the inmates’ age and race. However, there was no statistically significant correlation between the inmates’ grade-level gain scores and both time-to-parole and security level of the prison facility.

Batchelder and Rachal (2000) conducted a study of learning gains of 71 inmates participating in a computer-assisted GED certificate program in a maximum-security prison. The inmates in this study were predominately African-American (79%) and had a mean age of 30.5 years. The results from a t test showed no statistically significant difference between the pre-test CED scores and post-test GED scores in the subject areas of reading and math. Likewise, an Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) suggested that there was no statistically significant difference between inmates’ reading and math GED score gains and both the number of hours the inmates’ participated in class and the inmates’ previous educational history.

McKee and Clements (2000) conducted a meta-analysis of their previous studies on inmate literacy. The meta-analysis suggested that inmates participating in literacy programs had TABE grade-level score gains in reading, math, and language. The study claimed that some inmates increased 1.0 gradelevel in reading, math, and language after 30 hours of instruction, while the poorly prepared inmates required 60-75 hours of instruction for the same grade-level increase. However, McKee and Clements failed to disclose the level of statistical significance associated with their findings.

Messemer and Valentine (2004) conducted a study of learning gains for inmates participating in an adult basic education program in a secured prison facility located in the southeastern region of the United States. The sample for this study consisted of 124 male inmates who were predominately AfricanAmerican (84.7%) and between the ages of 14-50 years. Learning gains were determined from the differences between the pre-test and post-test TABE standardized scores for reading, math, and language. The results from this study suggest that the inmates had made statistically significant learning gain in reading, math, and language. In addition, Messemer and Valentine found no statistically significant correlation between the inmates’ learning gains and the inmates’ age, the inmates’ previous grade-level completed, the inmates’ time-toparole, or the inmates’ number of hours of classroom participation.

Empirical Studies on Faith-Based Programs In Prison

There is research to support the theory that individuals who regularly attend church and/or other religious programming are less likely to engage in either deviant or criminal behavior (B. R. Johnson, Jang, Li, & Larson, 2000; Tittle & Welch, 1983). B. R. Johnson et al. (2000) suggests that the church serves as an agency toward reducing crime among the African-American youth. According to A. A. Johnson (2002), individuals who regularly attend church and/or other religious activities were more likely to experience positive academic achievement than were non-church participants. These findings are especially true for individuals living in low-socioeconomic communities (A. A. Johnson, 2002). In another study, B. R. Johnson (2000) found that the church had a positive influence in reducing the drug use among juveniles living in poor urban communities.

The researcher did not find any empirical studies that looked at the relationship between inmates’ religious participation in prison and academic success. The majority of the faith-based studies in prison looked at the influence religious programs had upon either the inmates’ adjustment to prison or the inmates’ rate of recidivism. In a study of 700 inmates within 20 prisons, Clear and Myhre found that inmates who participated in religious activities had fewer disciplinary infractions while in prison (as cited in B. R. Johnson & Larson, 1998). Clear and Sumter (2002) conducted a random survey of 769 inmates in which the findings suggested that there was a significant positive relationship between the inmates’ religious participation and their disciplinary record in prison. In a study of 779 inmates at a large medium/maximum security prison in South Carolina, O’Connor and Perreyclear (2002) suggest that the more involvement inmates had in the religious programs in prison, the less likely they were to commit some infraction within the prison facility.

Six empirical studies looked at the influence religious programs had upon the inmates’ rate of recidivism. The first two cases involve studies outside the United States. In the first international study, Tone (1996) reported on a study conducted at the Olmos maximum-security prison near Buenos Aires, Argentina. The results of this study found that less than 1 % of the inmates who participated in an extensive Christian program in prison returned to prison upon release. This statistic is in contrast to the 40% recidivism rate found among the general prison population at the Olmos prison facility. In the second international study, Colson (1991) reported on a recidivism study of 500 inmates conducted at the Humaita Prison in Sâo José Campos, Brazil. The results of this study found that only 4% of the inmates who participated in an extensive Christian training program returned to prison upon release as opposed to the 75% rate of recidivism among the control group.

The four remaining empirical studies look at the rate of recidivism among the inmates in the United States who participated in some form of Christian programming while in prison. B. R. Johnson conducted a study in Texas that looked at the influence participation in the “InnerChange Freedom Initiative” program had upon the inmates’ recidivism rate (as cited in Nolan, 2004). The InnerChange Freedom Initiative is an intensive Christian-based training program which was sponsored by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Prison Fellowship Ministries with the goal of reducing the Inmate recidivism rate. The two-year post-release follow-up study, found that the InnerChange Freedom Initiative inmate graduates had an 8.0% recidivism rate in comparison to the 20.3% recidivism rate of the control group.

Young, Gartner, O’Connor, Larson, and Wright (1995) conducted a longterm recidivism study of federal Inmates who were trained to serve as volunteer prison ministers. The 180 inmates in the experiment group attended a twoweek training seminar by Prison Fellowship Ministries. The purpose of the seminar was to help increase the inmates’ faith and leadership capabilities. This study also tracked the recidivism rates for 185 inmates in the control group. Young et al. found that the inmates who participated in the faith-based seminar had statistically significant lower rates of recidivism than those inmates did in the control group. A survival analysis demonstrated that the faith-based seminar inmates maintained a higher survival rate than the Inmates In the control group throughout the fourteen-year follow-up study. However, Young et al. suggest that the inmates with higher survival rates were more likely to be low-risk, White, and female inmates.

B. R. Johnson, Larson, and Pitts (1997) studied the recidivism rates of adult male inmates who had participated in Christian-based programs sponsored by Prison Fellowship Ministries at four state prisons in New York. The study consisted of 201 inmates in both the experiment and control groups who were followed for a period of 12-months post-release. The results of the study suggested that there was no statistically significant difference between the rates of recidivism for the inmates participating in the Prison Fellowship Ministries programs and the inmates in the control group. However, when looking at the different activities provided by Prison Fellowship Ministries, the findings suggested that the inmates who participated in Bible studies on a regular basis had statistically significant lower rates of recidivism during the follow-up period than the inmates in the control group.

One of the arguments against the B. R. Johnson, Larson, and Pitts’s (1997) study was that it only followed the inmates’ post-release record for a period of one-year. In order better understand the effectiveness of the Prison Fellowship Ministries programs on inmate recidivism rates; one would need to follow the Inmates for a much longer duration. Therefore, B. R. Johnson (2004) continued to follow the post-release history of the same sample group for a period of eight-years. B. R. Johnson’s study suggests that those inmates with higher levels of participation in the Bible studies had statistically significant lower rates of recidivism than the control group after 2 and 3 years post-release. However, this study suggests that the effect Bible studies have on the inmates’ rate of recidivism diminishes over time.

Purpose Statement

The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding as to the influence Christianity has on the academic achievements of inmates participating in a prison adult literacy program. In order to achieve this broad purpose, four specific research questions were posed:

1. Do the Christian inmates have significant learning gains in the literacy skill areas of reading, math, and language?

2. Do the non-Christian inmates have significant learning gains in the literacy skill areas of reading, math, and language?

3. Do Christian inmates have significantly greater learning gains in the literacy skill areas of reading, math, and language than do the nonChristian inmates?

4. To what extent can the observed academic achievement be explained by other inmate characteristics?

Methodology

Prison Facility and Educational Program

The data used in this study consists of the same sample group described by Messemer and Valentine (2004) for their study of inmate learning gains. The study consisted of male inmates participating in an ABE program in a secured-prison facility in the southeastern region of the United States. In order to maintain both prison and inmate confidentiality, ‘Mountain View State Prison” (MVSP) will be used as a pseudonym for the prison facility in which this study was conducted. Messemer and Valentine (2004) used the same pseudonym in their study. MVSP is an adult state prison facility that houses more than 1,200 male inmates. Approximately 15% of the inmates at MVSP were under the age of 18. All of the juvenile inmates at MVSP were serving a minimum of 10 years for their convictions of adult crimes. MVSP is required by the state to house the juvenile inmates in a different cell than the adult inmates. In addition, the juvenile inmates are required to attend all prison activities, such as educational training and religion programs, at a different time of day than the adult inmates.

The educational program at MVSP offers many programs such as special education, ABE, GED, and vocational education. This study focused solely upon those inmates participating in the ABE program. The researcher decided to include the juvenile inmates participating in the ABE program for this study. There are three reasons why the researcher chose to Include the juvenile inmates. First the nature of their crime causes one to think of them as adults. Many scholars define adulthood from the identification of social roles (e.g., Bee, 1987,1996; Dannefer, 1984,1996; Hughes & Graham, 1990; Jarvis, 1987; Kidd, 1973; Knox, 1977; Levenson & Grumpier, 1996; Whitbourne & Weinstock, 1979).

Because the juvenile inmates chose to engage in a specific type of behavior deemed by the courts to represent adult behavior, then the researcher felt compelled to consider the juvenile inmates as adults. In addition, despite the inmates’ age, the social structure of both the inmate population and the prison administration (e.g., warden, correctional officers, and teachers) establishes their current social roles. secondly, the ABE program at MVSP utilized the same teaching personnel, the same learning activities, and the same educational materials for both the juvenile and adult inmate programs. The only difference was the time of day in which the two groups of inmates attended class. The state required that the prison separate the juvenile inmates from the adult inmate population. Therefore, the juvenile inmates attended class at a different time of day than the adult inmate learners. The third reason for including the juvenile inmates became an ethical issue. In many U.S. adult prisons, there is a rapid increase in the juvenile inmate population. The State Department of Education required all of the juvenile inmates at MVSP who did not hold a GED to attend either the ABE or GED programs in prison. Therefore, if the researcher was to exclude the juvenile inmates from this study, then the question would arise ‘Who would evaluate their academic progress?’ The researcher felt that for this study he had an ethical responsibility to the inmates, the teachers, the prison administration, and the State Department of Corrections to include all the inmates participating in the ABE program at MVSP.

Sample

The total sample, as described in Table 1, consisted of 124 male inmates participating in the ABE program at MVSP. The mean age of the total sample was 20.4 years (n=124), with the range of 14-50 years. Juvenile inmates represented 25.0% (n=31) of the total sample size. The overwhelming majority of the total sample size was African-American (84.7%), while only 12.1% of the total sample was White. The average inmate among the total sample had completed just the ninth grade-level in school prior to incarceration. The inmates in the total sample had a mean of 64.4 months remaining before they were eligible for either parole or release from prison. The inmates in the total sample were absent from the ABE program on average 22.5% of the class sessions. According to prison officials in the ABE program at MVSP, the inmates were likely absent for one of two reasons. First, Inmates could have been absent from the ABE program due to an illness. Secondly, the inmates could have been absent from the ABE program because they were placed in solitary confinement for a number of days due to disciplinary problems in prison. The MVSP officials provided the data describing why the inmates in this sample were absent from the ABE program. The data suggest that the total sample averaged to miss 20.1% of the ABE class sessions due to disciplinary reasons. In contrast, the total sample was absent from 2.4% of the ABE class sessions due to medical reasons.

For the purpose of this study, the researcher divided the total sample into two main groups. First, the experiment group consists of those inmates who self-reported that they attended Christian programs at MVSP on a regular basis. However, each inmate attending the Christian programs did not provide the researcher Information regarding their rate of participation. The inmates were assigned into the experiment group solely based on their self-reporting that they were Christians and that they attended Judeo-Christian church services, Judeo-Christian bible studies, and/or read their bible on a regular basis. The control group consisted of those inmates who did not profess a Christian belief and who did not participate in the Christian programs at MVSP or did not read the bible on a regular basis. In order to verify that the inmates’ claims regarding their faith were accurate, the researcher later consulted with the clergy at MVSP to determine if the inmates were participating in the Christian programs.

The sample (see Table 1) consisted of 55 Christian inmates and 69 nonChristian Inmates. The Christian inmates had a mean age of 21.3 years, while the non-Christian inmates had a mean age of 19.6 years. With respect to race, both sample groups were predominately African-American. The Christian sample was 89.1 % African-American (n=49) whereas the non-Christian sample was 81.2% African-American (n=56). The Christian sample was 9.1% White (n=5) whereas the non-Christian sample was 14.5% White (n=10). The nonChristian sample consisted of three Hispanic inmates while the Christian sample consisted of one Asian inmate. The educational background for the two sample groups mirrored the total sample. The inmates in both the Christian sample and the non-Christian sample had an average previous grade-level completion rate of the ninth grade-level of education prior to Incarceration. The inmates in the Christian sample had a mean of 57.8 months of incarceration left on their sentence before they were eligible for parole or release from prison. The inmates in the non-Christian sample had a mean of 71.0 months of incarceration left before they were eligible for parole or release from prison. The inmates in the Christian sample had a much lower rate of absenteeism from the ABE class than the non-Christian Inmate sample. The rate of absenteeism for the Christian sample was a mean of 16.2% of the ABE class sessions, whereas the mean rate of absenteeism for the non-Christian sample was a mean of 27.5% of the ABE class sessions. When identifying absenteeism due to disciplinary reasons, the rate of absenteeism for the Christian sample was a mean of 12.0% of the ABE class sessions, whereas the rate of absenteeism for the non-Christian sample was a mean of 26.5% of the ABE class sessions. When identifying absenteeism due to medical reasons, the rate of absenteeism for the Christian sample was a mean of 4.2% of the ABE class sessions, whereas the rate of absenteeism for the non-Christian sample was a mean of 1.0% of the ABE class sessions.

Data Collection

The specific guidelines regarding the data collection process were governed by three distinct entities: (a) the Institutional Review Board of the University of Georgia Graduate Research Office, (b) the State Department of Corrections, and (c) the MVSP. In order to insure inmate and prison confidentiality, the institutional Review Board of the University of Georgia required the researcher to use a pseudonym, such as MVSP, in referring to the name of the prison facility.

The correctional education records for the inmates in the MVSP ABE program were stored and maintained by the inmates’ current teacher. The researcher reviewed each of the inmates’ correctional education files, thus entering the data into an SPSS dataset. In order to maintain inmate confidentiality, the key identifier for each inmate was his prison identification number. This process prevented the researcher from knowing the identity of the inmate participants. From the academic records, the researcher recorded the raw score, the standardized score, and the grade-level score that each inmate achieved on the reading, math, and language sections of the TABE 5 and 6. The academic data was categorized using a pretest/posttest format. The pretest represented the scores the inmates received the first time they were administered the TABE 5 and 6. The post-test represented the scores the inmates received during the next time they were administered the TABE 5 and 6. The mean time between the pretest and post-test scores for the inmates in that total sample was 115.26 hours of instruction or nearly 29 class sessions. This statistic was virtually the same for both the Christian and non-Christian sample groups.

The biographical data such as the inmates’ age, the inmates’ race, the inmates’ previous grade-level completed, the inmates’ number of months to parole, the inmates’ rate of absenteeism from the ABE program, and the reasons for the inmates’ rate of absenteeism was recorded from the inmates’ general prison file in the educational administrative office at MVSP. The researcher recorded the inmates’ rate of absenteeism from the attendance sheets maintained by each of the ABE teachers at MVSP. As mentioned earlier, the researcher recorded whether the inmates participated in the Christian programs at MVSP through the inmates’ own self-report. In order to verify that the inmates’ self-report was accurate, the researcher later consulted with all the clergy at MVSP.

Statistical Methods

This study involved two primary areas of measurement: (a) learning gains and (b) rate of absenteeism. The inmates’ learning gains were measured using their Standardized Score Gains in the reading, math, and language sections of the TABE 5 and 6. The researcher used a pretest/posttest format, as described in the formula below.

Gain Score = T2 – T1

Where: T1 = TABE Pretest Standandized Score

T2 = TABE Posttest Standardized Score

The researcher addressed the rate of absenteeism by calculating the number of hours each inmate was absent from class and the number of hours each inmate attended class during the time between which each inmate was administered the TABE pretest and the TABE posttest. The summation of the inmate’s hours of absenteeism and the inmate’s hours of class participation becomes the total number of hours the inmate could have attended class. In determining the rate of absenteeism for each inmate, the researcher used the formula shown below.

Rate of Absenteeism = (Ha / (Hp + Ha)) * 100

Where: Ha = Number of Hours of Classroom Absentee

Hp = Number of Hours of Classroom Participation

* 100 = Convert to Percentage Format

The researcher used the same formula measuring the rate of absenteeism in order to measure the disciplinary rate of absenteeism and the medical rate of absenteeism. The researcher calculated the total number of hours each inmate was absent from the ABE class sessions for disciplinary reasons and how many hours each inmate was absent from the ABE class sessions for medical reasons. Therefore, the researcher used the following formulas to measure the rate of absenteeism for disciplinary and medical reasons.

Disciplinary Rate of Absenteeism = (Hda / (Hp + Hda)) * 100

Medical Rate of Absenteeism = (Hma / (Hp + Hma)) * 100

Where: Hda = Number of Hours of Classroom Absentee for Disciplinary Reasons

Hma = Number of Hours of Classroom Absentee for Medical Reasons

Hp = Number of Hours of Classroom Participation

* 100 = Convert to Percentage Format

In analyzing the statistical significance of the inmates’ learning gain scores for the reading, math, and language sections of the TABE, the researcher conducted a t-test. The researcher administered the t-test using the three sample groups: total sample, Christian sample, and non-Christian sample. Secondly, the researcher conducted a Spearman’s rho correlation to test the level of statistical significance between the Christian sample learning gain scores and the nonChristian sample learning gain scores and the following sample characteristics: inmate age, inmate race, previous grade-level completed, number of months to parole, and the rate of absenteeism from the ABE class. The researcher chose the Spearman’s rank-order correlation for two main reasons. First, Messemer and Valentine (2004) noted that the total sample represented in this study involved a number of cases whereby the inmates’ had a negative gain score in the reading, math, and/or language sections of the TABE. The negative gains scores would skew the normal distribution curve, because some of the gain scores would fall below zero. This would limit the number of appropriate transformations which could be found using a standard correlation analysis procedure, such as Pearson’s correlation. Therefore, when two random variables differ from the normal distribution, the rank-order correlation procedure generated by Spearman’s rho is widely recommended (Huck, 2000; Kramer, 1988; Neter, Kutner, Nachtsheim, & Wasserman, 1996). The second reason for using the Spearman’s rho correlation is the small and differing sample sizes found in both the Christian sample and the non-Christian sample. Huck (2000) suggests that when samples are small or differ in size it is more appropriate to use a rank-order correlation. For all statistical measures, an alpha level of .05 was used as a benchmark for determining the level of statistical significance (Keppel, 1991; Suter, 1998; Weinberg & Goldberg, 1990).

Results

The first phase of the analysis explored the Inmates’ total standardized score gains on the reading, math, and language sections of the TABE 5 and 6. The descriptive statistics and the results of the t-test for the inmates’ standardized score gains for each of the three subject areas are reported in Table 2. Standardized score gains were measured for the entire sample group and for the two-subgroup areas: (a) Christian sample and (b) non-Christian sample. The researcher will discuss the descriptive statistics and the results of the t-test for the inmates’ standardized score gains for the reading, math, and language subject areas independently.

Reading

When measuring the total sample, the inmates had a mean standardized score gain of 17.2 points in reading which represented a statistically significant Increase [t(123)=6.93, p=.001]. The mean posttest score of 739.9 was 30.9 standardized score points above the mean for adult offenders who are administered the TABE 5 and 6 reading test (CTB/McGraw-Hill, 1987, p. 49). The Christian inmate sample had a mean standardized score gain of 22.6 points in reading which represented a statistically significant increase [t(54)=6.77, p=.001). The mean posttest score of 739.7 was 30.7 standardized score points above the mean for adult offenders who are administered the TABE 5 and 6 reading test (CTB/McGraw-Hill, 1987, p. 49). The non-Christian inmate sample had a mean standardized score gain of 13.0 points in reading which represented a statistically significant increase [t(69)=3.70, p=.001|. The mean posttest score of 740.1 was 31.1 standardized score points above the mean for adult offenders who are administered the TABE 5 and 6 reading test (CTB/McGraw-Hill, 1987, p. 49). Even though both the Christian and nonChristian samples showed statistically significant learning gains in reading, the Christian inmate sample had a 73.8% greater standardized score gain in reading than those inmates in the non-Christian sample.

Math

When measuring the total sample, the Inmates had a mean standardized score gain of 20.7 points in math which represented a statistically significant increase [t(122)=7.81, p=.001]. The mean posttest score of 755.7 was 34.2 standardized score points above the mean for adult offenders who are administered the TABE 5 and 6 math test (CTB/McGraw-Hill, 1987, p. 49). The Christian inmate sample had a mean standardized score gain of 24.5 points in math which represented a statistically significant increase [t(54)=6.71, p=.0011. The mean posttest score of 754.6 was 33.1 standardized score points above the mean for adult offenders who are administered the TABE 5 and 6 math test (CTB/McGraw-Hill, 1987, p. 49). The non-Christian inmate sample had a mean standardized score gain of 17.8 points in math which represented a statistically significant increase [t(68)=4.71, p=.001]. The mean posttest score of 756.6 was 35.1 standardized score points above the mean for adult offenders who are administered the TABE 5 and 6 math test (CTB/McGraw-Hill, 1987, p. 49). The Christian inmate sample had a 37.6% greater standardized score gain in math than the non-Christian inmate sample, even though both samples showed a statistically significant increase in math.

Language

When measuring the total sample, the inmates had a mean standardized score gain of 19.8 points in language which represented a statistically significant Increase [t(117)=5.60, p=.001|. The mean posttest score of 700.1 was 25.0 standardized score points above the mean for adult offenders who are administered the TABE 5 and 6 language test (CTB/McGraw-Hill, 1987, p. 49). The Christian inmate sample had a mean standardized score gain of 30.5 points In language which represented a statistically significant increase [t(51)=6.74, p=.001]. The mean posttest score of 704.4 was 29.3 standardized score points above the mean for adult offenders who are administered the TABE 5 and 6 language test (CTB/McGraw-Hill, 1987, p. 49). The non-Christian Inmate sample had a mean standardized score gain of 11.4 points in language which represented a statistically significant increase [t(66)=2.29, p=.025]. The mean posttest score of 696.3 was 21.2 standardized score points above the mean for adult offenders who are administered the TABE 5 and 6 language test (CTB/McGraw-Hill, 1987, p. 49). Even though both the Christian and nonChristian inmate samples showed statistically significant learning gains in language, the Christian Inmate sample had a 167.5% greater standardized score gain in language than those inmates in the non-Christian sample.

Correlating Factors

The second phase of the analysis involved measuring the correlation between the inmates’ learning gams in reading, math, and language and two main components. The first component consisted of testing the correlation between the inmates’ TABE standardized score gains and the Christian and Non-Christian samples. The second component was to test the correlation between the inmates’ TABE standardized score gains and the following sample characteristics: inmate age, previous grade-level completed, the number of months to parole/release from prison, the rate of absenteeism, the rate of disciplinary absenteeism, and the rate of medical absenteeism. For both components, all correlation testing was done using Spearman rank-order correlations (rs). The descriptive data regarding the Spearman’s rank-order correlation is illustrated In Table 3.

The Christian inmate sample increased their gain score by 9.6 points more than the non-Christian inmate sample on the TABE reading test. The difference in the reading gains for these two groups was found to be statistically significant (Spearman’s rho = 0.213, p

In an attempt to understand why the inmates in the Christian sample had shown greater improvement In the reading and language skill areas than those in the non-Christian sample, the researcher looked to the sample characteristics to see if there was any significant correlation. The correlation testing revealed that the Christian inmate sample had a statistically significant lower rate of absenteeism from the ABE program than the non-Christian inmate sample (Spearman’s rho = -0.323, p

The Christian inmate sample had a statistically significant lower rate of absenteeism from the ABE program due to disciplinary reasons than the nonChristian inmate sample (Spearman’s rho = -.323, p

The Christian inmate sample had a statistically significantly higher rate of absenteeism from the ABE program due to medical reasons than the nonChristian inmate sample (Spearman’s rho = .317, p

The inmates’ previous grade-level completed prior to incarceration was found to be a statistically significant positive predictor toward the inmates’ performance on the TABE math test (Spearman’s rho = 0.173, p

Discussion

The findings from this study were able to demonstrate that the total inmate sample participating in the ABE program at MVSP had statistically significant learning gains in the reading, math, and language skill areas. This result is important to the inmates in this study because, for many of them, their previous academic history prior to incarceration was influenced by failure. For nearly all of the inmates in this study, they even failed in their criminal behavior that led them to prison. As strange as it may seem, this was likely the first time the inmates in this study had achieved anything positive in their life, let alone in education. However, the focus of this study went beyond the original study of Messemer and Valentine (2004) which sought to measure the level of the inmates’ academic success in the ABE program at MVSP. This study sought to explain why some inmates were more successful in the ABE classroom than others and what the distinguishing factors were which could explain these results. For this study, the researcher focused upon the research literature that suggested that faith-based programs had a positive influence on the criminal behavior (Colson, 1991 ; B. R. Johnson, Jang, Li, & Larson, 2000; B. R. Johnson, Larson, 9 Pitts, 1997; Nolan, 2004; Tittle & Welch, 1983; Young et al., 1995) and academic achievement (A. A. Johnson, 2002) of the inmates in prison.

The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding as to the influence Christianity has on the academic achievements of inmates participating in a prison adult literacy program. In order to achieve this broad purpose, four specific research questions were posed:

1. Do the Christian inmates have significant learning gains in the literacy skill areas of reading, math, and language?

2. Do the non-Christian inmates have significant learning gains in the literacy skill areas of reading, math, and language?

3. Do Christian inmates have significantly greater learning gains in the literacy skill areas of reading, math, and language than do the nonChristian inmates?

4. To what extent can the observed academic achievement be explained by other inmate characteristics?

In an attempt to address the first two research questions, this study found that both the Christian inmate sample and the non-Christian inmate sample had statistically significant learning gains in the reading, math, and language skill areas. This study also suggests that the inmates in both sample groups achieved higher standardized scores on the TABE posttest in reading, math, and language than the average adult inmate who is administered the TABE 5 and 6 (CTB/McGraw-Hill, 1987, p. 49). In addition, the standardized scores on the TABE pretest for both sample groups was higher than the national mean for adult inmates in all three subject areas, except for the TABE language pretest score for the Christian inmate sample. These results are important because they suggest that the inmates in both sample groups are likely very intelligent individuals who have a strong capacity to learn.

Regarding the third research question, this study found that the Christian inmate sample had statistically significant greater learning gains in both reading and language than the non-Christian inmate sample. The Christian inmate sample also had greater gains in math than the non-Christian inmate sample even though the difference in the learning gains was not statistically significant. These statistics support A. A. Johnson’s (2002) claim that individuals who attend church and/or other religious activities on a regular basis are more likely to experience more positive academic achievement than those individuals who do not participate in such programs.

Regarding the fourth research question, the results from the Spearman’s rank-order correlation test suggests that the Christian inmate sample had statistically significant lower rates of absenteeism from the ABE program than the non-Christian sample. The results also suggest that the Christian inmate sample had statistically significant lower rates of absenteeism from the ABE program due to disciplinary reasons than the non-Christian inmate sample. These findings coincide with the claims made by Clear and Sumter (2002), Clear and Myhre (as cited in B. R. Johnson & Larson, 1998), and O’Conner and Perreyclear (2002) who suggest that inmates who are involved in religious programs in prison tend to have lower rates of disciplinary problems. The results from this study suggests that the rate of absenteeism and rate of disciplinary absenteeism was a statistically significant predictor for the inmate learning gains in the reading and language skill areas. At MVSP, the inmates who choose to engage in behavioral misconduct are required to spend 30-90 days in solitary confinement. The inmates who are placed in solitary confinement will in turn be absent from the ABE program for the same period. Therefore, the lower rate of disciplinary absenteeism among the Christian inmates provides them a better opportunity to excel in the classroom (e.g., A. A. Johnson, 2002).

The results from this study suggest that the Christian inmate sample was more likely to be absent from the ABE program due to medical reasons, than was the non-Christian inmate sample. The research findings suggest that the rate of medical absenteeism from the ABE program was not a statistically significant predictor among the inmates’ learning gains in reading, math, and language skill areas. The findings in this study suggest that the older inmates were less likely to be absent from the ABE class sessions due to disciplinary reasons, thus suggesting that the inmates’ level of maturity has some impact upon their behavior. However, the inmates’ age alone did not have an influence upon the inmates’ academic performance in the classroom. The results from this study suggests that Christian programs have a positive influence on the inmates’ learning gains in the reading and language skill areas when participating in an ABE program. However, the Christian programs only account for 5% of the predicted value for reading gains and 9% of the predicted value for language gains for the male inmates in this study. This study found the greatest contribution the Christian programs made was upon reducing the rate of inmates’ absenteeism in the ABE program due to disciplinary problems in prison. More specifically, the older Christian inmates represented 18% of the predicted value for lower rates of disciplinary absenteeism from the ABE program. When factoring the inmates’ disciplinary behavior into the adult learning equation, this study found that Christian programs and the rate of disciplinary absenteeism together accounted for 8% and 12% of the predicted value for the inmates’ learning gains in reading and language skill areas respectively.

If Christian programs lead inmates to have less disciplinary problems, less absenteeism in the classroom, and thus better academic achievement, we must ask the question: What is it about the Christian programs that motivate the inmates to change their behavior? The academic success by the Christian inmates is likely due to a total transformation in the inner-self (e.g., Brookfield, 2000; Cranton, 2000; Mezirow, 1991). For many of the inmates in this study, the world has given up on rehabilitating the offenders. However, the Christian church believes in redemption. Nolan (2004) stated, “The church reaches out in love, embracing offenders while asking them to repent of their sins and to turn their lives over to God” (p. 95). For the Christian inmate, the learning transformation becomes more of a spiritual transformation. Because we are spiritual beings O’Connor and Perreyclear (2002) state, “Our spiritual nature means that we are capable and desirous of having an ultimate and meaningful sense of connectedness or relationship with other people, our world, and God” (p. 18). The Christian faith places a strong emphasis on morality and responsibility. Therefore, the Christian inmates experience a connected relationship with God whereby they feel accountable for their actions and express a need for change. This change of action may include not engaging in some type of deviant behavior, but the change can also involve taking responsibility for his/her education and self-development. Therefore, improving their educational knowledge and skills becomes one of the things that the inmates are able to change while in prison. This could help explain why the Christian inmates had higher TABE score gains. The fact that the Christian Inmates had statistically significant learning gains in reading and language suggests that they found improving their skills in this area was vital for being able to read the Bible and other Christian materials with greater confidence and understanding. The increase in inmates’ level of self-confidence and understanding could give them the level of self-esteem necessary to be able to engage in discussion groups, such as in the prison Bible study. If these points are true, then it illustrates that some inmates are applying correctional education for the same religious purposes outlined by the adult and correctional educators during the early Colonial period (Gehring, 1995; Merriam & Brockett, 1997; Stubblefield & Keane, 1994).

Some scholars are skeptical of the positive influence the Christian programs have upon the behavior of inmates. They question whether Christian programs truly produce lower rates of disciplinary problems in prison, lower rates of recidivism, improved academic achievement, and lower rates of absenteeism in the classroom. For example, Boston (2003) suggested that the influence Charles Colson’s organization, Prison Fellowship Ministries, had on the inmates’ rate of recidivism was skewed because of the nature of the inmates in their study. Boston claimed the inmates who participated in the Inner-Change program were “usually men and women found guilty of low-level offenses in minimum-security institutions” (p. 9). Out of respect for both Colson and Boston, the researcher is unable to comment upon the social context of the Prison Fellowship Ministries’ sample group. However, the researcher is quite confident that Boston could not make the same claim with regard to this study. MVSP, the site of this study, is a closed-security (Level-V) institution, which is just one-level below maximum security. The majority of the inmates at this prison facility have long-term sentences. A few inmates had as much as eighteen years left on their sentence before they where parole eligible. In addition, five inmates in this study were serving life sentences, with four of these inmates representing the Christian inmate sample. The Christian inmate sample had a mean of nearly five-years left on their sentence before they were even eligible for parole/release. For the non-Christian sample, the mean was about six-years. It is important to reiterate that the juvenile Inmates in this study were serving a minimum of ten-years for their adult crime. In this particular State, the juvenile inmates at MVSP were required to serve the whole ten-years before they were eligible for parole/release.

The researcher must admit, as in the case of all research, this study does have Its limitations. One limitation of this study is that the researcher did not have access to the amount of time the Christian inmates attended Church, Bible study, and privately read the Bible. It would have been interesting to know the Inmates’ rate of absenteeism from the Church and Bible study programs because this would have allowed the researcher to expand the correlation test. A second limitation is that there were not other religious faiths included in this study. Including inmates from other religious faiths would have allowed the researcher to determine whether these findings were representative of only Christian inmates or if the same outcomes applied to inmates of differing religious faiths. There were only eight inmates representing one of three other religious faiths in the educational program at MVSP. Therefore, the researcher was unable to run correlation tests regarding these faith areas because of the small sample size. Regardless of the lack of multi-faith representation in this study, it in no way impugns the strength of the results found in this study. The Christian inmate sample still had statistically significant greater learning gains in the reading and language skill areas and lower rates of disciplinary absenteeism.

A third limitation for this study was in the low predicted value between the Christian programs and the inmates’ leaning gains in reading and language skill areas. Although, the Christian inmate sample had statistically significant learning greater learning gains in reading and language than the non-Christian inmate sample, the overall predicted value was somewhat low. The researcher believes that the low predicted value is in part due to the small sample size for this study. Although the sample size for this study was more than large enough to accept the statistical significance found from the research findings, a larger sample size would have further increased the level of statistical significance and Increased the predicted value of the Christian programs (e.g., Keppel, 1991 ; Weinberg & Goldberg, 1990).

A fourth limitation could lie within the interpretation of the research findings. The researcher believes that he made a strong enough argument to illustrate that the combination of Christian programs and lower rates of disciplinary absenteeism has a profound influence upon the academic success for low-literate male inmates in the reading and language skill areas. However, some scholars might suggest that these findings are not about the influence on academic achievement, but rather about the influence on deviant behavior. Because the findings in this study found Christian programs to have the greatest predicted value on disciplinary absenteeism, some scholars might suggest that it was the combination of Christian programs and academic achievement, which resulted in lower rates of disciplinary problems among the Christian inmates. The researcher believes that both cases might be true in that all of the predicted values are interrelated.

This study opens the door for correctional education scholars to conduct additional research in this subject area. In addition to the areas just mentioned in the research limitations, the researcher recommends the need for research that explores why inmates of faith participate in both religious programs and educational programs in prison. There is a need for research that looks at how faith-based programs and educational programs influence: the inmates’ level of academic achievement, the inmates’ personal behaviors in prison, and the inmates’ personal and professional goals upon release from prison. The goal of the researcher is to create more dialogue between adult and correctional educators concerning this area of study.

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Biographical Sketch

JONATHAN E. MESSEMER is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Adult Learning and Development in the College of Education and Human Services, Cleveland State University. Dr. Messemer also serves as the Coordinator of the Accelerated ALD Master’s Degree Program at Cleveland State University. Dr. Messemer holds an Ed.D. degree in Adult Education from The University of Georgia. His dissertation was entitled: Influences on Teacher Decision-Making in Correctional Education Classrooms. Dr. Messemer holds a B.S. degree in Supervision from Purdue University and an M.A. degree in Adult Education from Ball State University.

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