Education in the Federal Bureau of Prisons

By Christopher Zoukis

All federal prisons have some form of educational programming for the inmates housed at their institution.  Typically, the prison’s Education Department is where educational programming is centered.  This could be a stand-alone building, a wing of a larger building, or a special room which is used for educational purposes.  Regardless of the department’s structure, educational programming is available to all inmates at the institution.  Most forms of education provided through this department are available at no cost to inmate participants.  The four general forms of education available in all Federal Bureau of Prisons’ facilities are GED preparation, English-as-a-Second Language (ESL), Adult Continuing Education (ACE), and Correspondence Education.  Program offerings will depend upon the local institution.  What follows is an overview of each form of education.  Image courtesy


The GED is the official high school diploma equivalent and, as such, is the primary educational offering within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  GED classes usually consist of a single staff educator who oversees several inmate tutors, who handle the majority of the one-on-one teaching.  Since GED classrooms are divided by general academic ability (e.g., 1st-5th grade, 6th-8th grade, 9th-12th grade), instruction is not performed on a collective basis, but on an individual basis.  Each student works out of their own textbook (targeted to their personal academic level), and completes assignments on a personal assignment sheet.  

All inmates who have not previously earned a GED or a high school diploma are required to participate in the BOP’s GED program.  Generally speaking, inmates are required to take GED courses until they earn their GED, or complete 240 hours of instruction and opt to sign out of the program.  In the latter situation, they will receive some internal restrictions (e.g., lowest pay grade in prison), but they will not be sanctioned for a disciplinary infraction.  If the inmate elects, they can stay enrolled in the GED program after reaching the 240 hour mark of instruction.  If an inmate without a GED refuses to even complete the 240 minimum hours of instruction, they will receive an incident report and be formally sanctioned for “refusing to program.”

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Prison Education Beyond GED and ESL — Advanced Occupational Training

By George Hook

The BOP Central Office Division of Industries, Education, and Vocational Training has published an Occupational Training Programs Directory which sets forth its program offerings to federal prisoners in the Advanced Occupational Training category.  The stated purpose of these programs is to afford prisoners interested in furthering their employability upon release the opportunity to do so by enrolling in the various vocational courses offered.  Included are exploratory, marketable skill, and apprenticeship level courses. According to that Directory, 81 more or less distinct courses in the Advanced Occupational Training category are offered.  These Advanced Occupational Training courses range in duration from two days to 48 months. The typical duration is 12 months.

The courses offered in the Advanced Occupational Training category are Accounting Operations, Administrative Assistant, Advanced Computer Applications, Advanced Diesel Engine Repair, Alcohol Substance Abuse Studies, Animal Husbandry, Aquaculture, Automotive Diagnostics Repair, AutoCAD, Automated Computer Aided Design and Drafting, Basic Baking, Basic Computer Applications, Basic Computer Repair and Refurbishing, Basic Computer Skills, Basic Custodial Maintenance, Basic Diesel Engine Repair, Bookkeeping and Clerical Studies, Business Foundations, Building Maintenance—Electrical, Business Management and Law, Business Supervision and Management, Building Trades, Business Accounting, Automotive Service, Bookbinding, Business Administration, Business and Information Processing, Business Leadership, Business Technology, Canine Trainer, Computer Applications, Computer Business Education, Commercial Drivers License, Computerized Engraving, Computer Refurbishing—Hardware, Computer Refurbishing—Software, Construction Technology, Consumer Electronic Repair,  Copy Repair, Cosmetology,

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Prison Education Beyond GED and ESL — Overview

By George Hook

The BOP Central Office  Division of Industries, Education, and Vocational Training is ultimately responsible for education and vocational training programs within the Bureau of Prisons, but each Federal prison has its own education department providing educational activities to federal prisoners. The Division manages Adult Continuing Education (ACE) activities, which are formal instructional classes designed to increase prisoners’ general knowledge in a wide variety of subjects, such as writing and math, which is part of the overall budget and does not have its own distinct funding stream. Correctional institutions receive funds for educational programs through the regional BOP offices. 

The BOP has published an Occupational Training Programs Directory.  The Introduction to the Directory states that the Directory is updated annually.  However, the date on the cover of the only Directory available currently is September, 2006.  The Directory of that date lists occupational training and apprenticeship programs offered to prisoners in all the federal facilities.  

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