From ‘street guy’ to ‘college guy’: educational opportunities for inmates grow

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Sixty-eight percent of prison inmates never receive a high school diploma or GED, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The Oregon Department of Corrections has a contract with Central Oregon Community College to make educational services more available to inmates. The educational programs include Adult Basic Education classes and GED test preparation instruction, as well as college credit programs in welding and manufacturing.

As of Fall Term 2012, there are more than 190 students enrolled at the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution with a report of a 98 percent passing rate on GED testing. Every student at DRCI is required to have a GED or a high school diploma, according to Janet Narum, director of correctional education at DRCI. If a student does not have one, they are required to take classes leading them in the path to earning a GED. Classes include math, reading, writing, and social studies, all of which are free to every student at DRCI. There are currently 120 students enrolled in the GED program.

“I’ve seen inmates who saw themselves as ‘the street guy’ and now, with these education programs, they see themselves as ‘the college guy,’” Narum said. “It’s done wonders in turning their self-esteem around.”

Narum added that the prison has future plans for its education programs that include providing a diagnostician to help students with learning disabilities and increasing the size of the programs.

“I didn’t have anyone to push me through school and I struggled a lot in math,” said an inmate at DRCI, who will be kept anonymous due to prison policy. “I was the only student to complete my math with honors. The tutors do a really great job at making the programs more of a college setting rather than a prison.”

This DRCI inmate is currently continuing the GED program and plans to volunteer as a tutor to other inmates next year to help them with the same struggles he experienced. He uses his family as a motive and believes the classes at DRCI have boosted his self esteem.

Learning trade skills

A welding program is available for students at DRCI for earned credits. The welding program is run by Tucker Bauman who attended COCC and earned his associate of applied science degree in manufacturing technology. Bauman started working at DRCI in 2008 and has been operating the welding program since 2009. He volunteered his time for maintenance positions, which increased his welding skill set.

“[I love] being able to help someone with a troubled past and give them hope,” Bauman said.

The welding program only accepts ten students who have earned a GED or high school diploma, a math score of 236, along with a reading score of 242. Students are required to go through the safety course, which involves learning about fire safety, how to use tools, touring the welding shop, watching instructional videos, reading a welding manual and passing a three-page quiz. The program consists of 19 college classes that result in a 45 credit, one-year certificate of completion from COCC. The program has graduated 63 students and continues to enroll students each year.

Students in the welding program are able to take fabrication orders from the public and build items that are needed through the Deer Ridge Creations program. Through this, they are able to give back to the community by donating items to multiple organizations to aid in their fundraising efforts.

The current plans for the welding program are to have students build hardware and send the software to other facilities where Bauman will be traveling to verify what will be needed to get programs started and going.

Nicole Logologo | The Broadside
(Contact: nlogologo@cocc.edu)

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