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State & Federal Prison Teacher

Career Highlights

  • Teach incarcerated youth basic literacy
  • Educate adult prison inmates
  • Change lives with career education

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Career Summary

Most prisoners (youth and adults) have access to educational courses and training while in prison. The objective of prison education is to help inmates gain skills and qualifications that will allow them to find employment when they are released. Research has shown that prisoners who gain employment after release are much less likely to re-offend.

Who are prison teachers?

A teacher for the state or federal prison system is either a uniformed prison officer who has obtained their teaching credentials and certification, or a civilian with their teaching credentials with previous career experience. Much of the training they offer is in vocational and practical skills, such as construction, basic literacy, mathematical skills and career preparation. The learning environment is much harsher than in a high-school classroom, and inmates' attitudes toward their training can vary from highly enthusiastic to extremely negative -- so prison teachers need to be flexible and thick-skinned.

State and federal prison teachers plan their training programs around their students, based on the prison's assessment data, their own knowledge of teaching strategies and learning styles, and availability of resources. In-classroom work may include individualized teaching, peer tutoring and computer lessons.

Prison curriculum

A diverse curriculum is needed to meet the variety of inmates in prison classrooms. This may require writing an original curriculum rather than modifying the standard lesson plans used in more traditional classrooms. Inmates may have special learning needs such as dyslexia, hearing limitations and limited social or educational understanding.

Teachers also need to develop a record-keeping system to successfully track each student's progress. If a student is failing in one area, then teachers and other staff members may need to analyze the student's strengths and weaknesses, and properly modify the curriculum to help the student succeed. Prison staff members' observations are crucial, as social difficulty outside the classroom can hamper educational efforts. Input can come from a variety of sources such as psychological reports, prior teachers and inmate medical records.

Prison teachers may also assist and train institutional staff in working with inmates who have low educational abilities or learning disabilities. They may also serve as education advisers at meetings and offer measurable goals for the inmates.

In addition to teaching basic literacy and career-oriented skills, some teachers teach art and art therapy to prisoners. Art Behind Bars is a community service organization that teaches art education and donates inmate art creations to numerous non-profit organizations locally and nationally, such as Habitat for Humanity.

There are many teaching opportunities available within the state and federal prison system. Teachers can advance to management roles, or transfer to other types of institution, such as a mental institutions or state-funded health facilities. Teaching inmates can also be a great transition from a previous career into an educational career that makes a difference. It's not an easy career, but each life changed through career skills, social skills, or a new outlook on life is a lifetime award.




Requires a degree in:

  • Education
  • Secondary Learning

Career Skills

  • Teaching methods
  • Assessing individual prisoner's skills and competence levels
  • Develop and implement educational curricula
  • Organize and track student progress
  • Teach social educational skills

Additional Information



  1. Hi

    I am just about to graduate from college with a degree in Sociology and I was wondering what steps to take to pursue a career like this other than also attaining a degree in education and secondary learning.

  2. What would u reccomend

    I have wanted to become a teacher in a prison or juvi for sometime, I'm far from it though. I'm getting ready to go to college what would you reccomend me getting experiance in I know education degreebut what else like criminal justice and mind studys ect.

  3. I am interested in finding more information about teaching in the prisons or juvenile detention centers. I am a certified English teacher and am looking to teach in the Palm Beach, Florida area.
    How do I go about applying for this position?

  4. Interested in teaching math in NC Prison!!! : )

    Excited about the teaching oppportunities offered to inmates. Site is very helpful in helping me pursue this career goal. : )

  5. For those interested in finding out how to become a prison educator, there are a couple of options:

    The Correctional Education Association ( is dedicated to the nation's prison educators. Their office can be reached via email at, and executive director Steve Steurer is at

    Job sites such as and list prison jobs under Education, but they try to hide the prison aspect sometimes -- so you have to read carefully.

    My best recommendation is the first option, if you'd like to know where to start. Good luck.

  6. Artist and Art History/Studio Instructor

    I have just returned from Ireland where I have lived and worked for the last 12 years. I have always been interested in working with students behind bars, and my return to a country with a new promise politically motivates me to fulfill this idea. I teach painting, drawing, and printmaking along with mixed media..and have a digital slide library of world art to incorporate into my studio teaching. It works to inspire. How do I make contact with those who would be able to tell me which way to go? Posted Nov. 11, 2008 Pam Berry

  7. I am interested in a prison teaching position in Southwest Riverside County CA. Since 1986, I have been tutoring and teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) while attending college and working. With the use of auditory and physical response training, I construct lessons tailored specifically and designed to address the students' needs.
    Through the LSSI tutoring and ESL program, I have gained much insight into some of the cultural and syntactic differences between English and other languages of origin. Adult students from as many as eight countries have attended the classes that I instruct. Cultural expectations are addressed. Reading topics of interest or about current events, making oral presentations (with visual aids) about one's favorite hobby, writing exercises requiring research or auditory processing while listening to the dictation, learning of one another's culture through potluck luncheons and beach parties have given the students bonding time as well as improving their English vocabularies. I would like to assist those who have substandard English skills, enhance them, so that when prisoners are returned to society, they may better aclimate.

  8. Positions for Teachers in VA Prisons

    I am a 61-year-old woman and have recently earned a masters degree in education with an endorsement in learning Disabilities and emotional Disturbance. I also have a TEFL certificate from ITTO in Guadalajara, Mexico. I am interested in helping prisoners. Please tell me what positions are available to someone with my qualifications. Thank you

  9. How can I locate a teaching position witihn the Federal Bureau of prisons for the State of Florida?

  10. I have taught secondary education for fourteen years. The first four years I taught a self-contained Jr. High classroom as part of an alternative education program. The next six years I taught secondary Pre-Algebra and Algebra. The last four years I have taught at a secondary alternative high school. I teach Algebra 1 , Pre-Algebra, and an Exit Exam class for the CAHSEE in mathematics. I have a credential in history and a supplemental credential in mathematics. I also have a SADIA certificate. I would like to know how I would go about appling for a teaching position in the State or Federal Prison system

  11. I'm interested in teaching INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION and have taught this at College of the Desert for over 20 years. I would like to do Online teaching for prisoners who should take this before being released on parole. This is a course focused ON THE INDIVIDUAL STUDENT and how they interact with others in society.

  12. Teacher

    I am currently a teacher in the community school system in Kern County. Most of my students are on probation and have been to juvenile hall at least once. Also I've had the opportunity to substitute long term in a correctional facility. How do I go about applying for a job in the prison system that is available in my area?


    The first Step in being a State & Federal Prison Teacher is to obtain some education.

    Each states has different requirements for substitute teaching, which is basically how you can get your foot in the door for State & Federal Prison Teaching. You will need to research your individual state to see exactly what requirements are needed. But in general you will need a Substitute Teacher License / Certificate.

    Also check out the article Juvenile Justice System Education an interview with Robin Grattidge under articles at

  14. how can i apply for this job

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