July 18, 2012
Vol: 19 No: 29


Doing time, not homework

By Sarah Aitchison / Contributing Writer

King County's female inmates will soon lose the chance to earn a GED

Photo by Jon Williams / Arts Editor

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Women doing time at the King County Jail (KCJ) may no longer be able to earn their ged certificate, thanks to a loss of federal funding.

The last day of instruction is July 31,

when the contract with the current provider of women’s ged diploma education runs out. Right now there’s no solid plan to replace it.

The program is small. Between January 2010 and December 2011, 13 women and 79 men received their ged certificates through educational programs at the jail. Both the men’s and women’s programs have waitlists.

Literacy AmeriCorps runs the women’s ged certificate program at the jail. Two AmeriCorps members work at the jail. They find people to tutor inmates in the ged curriculum and lead classes for the women.

Matthew Metcalfe, one of the AmeriCorps members whose position will be terminated at the end of the month, said the program has had an impact. The women who are in the class he co-teaches were heartbroken when they heard funding for the program was not renewed.

“These are people who deal with heartbreak and oppression on a daily basis, so in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t too shocking I suppose, but definitely very frustrating,” he said.

Metcalfe said although he doesn’t notice a difference in desire to learn between genders, he believes women often have a slightly stronger desire to get out of jail. And for many, education is the ticket.

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a government nonprofit, gave a grant to Literacy AmeriCorps to provide the instruction at KCJ and hundreds of other adult education programs around the country, such as in community centers.

But cncs did not renew the $1.8 million Literacy AmeriCorps grant for next year, so kcj lost the people who run the ged program for female inmates.

Commander William Hayes, public information officer at the King County Department of Corrections, said the jail administration was informed about the funding cut at the beginning of June.

They’re not the only ones struggling to fill the gap. All literacy programs funded by the grant will be losing the AmeriCorps members that supported them.

“We are devastated by the loss and understand the implications and devastation it carries out to the field,” said Elizabeth Rivera, national coordinator of the Literacy AmeriCorps program.

The competition was stiff. Organizations requested more than twice as much funding as was available from CNCS.

cncs approved only 69 of 332 new or renewing applications for this funding cycle, or one in five applications.

“This level of competition means that strong applications, including many worthy of funding, were not able to be selected,” Samantha Warfield, media contact for cncs, wrote in an email.

AmeriCorps became the primary education provider for women after Seattle Central Community College renewed its contract last year with the caveat that they would only provide ged certificate education for men, said David Gourd, interim dean for basic and transitional education at SCCC.

Male inmates are in a better position to meet the outcome standards required to keep the program funded, in large part because they tend to spend more time in jail. The community college at the jail is held accountable for the progress of its students, who take tests before and after their required 45 hours of instruction, Gourd said.  Students who do not complete the program but are still participants do not have measurable improvement and so cannot be included in the results.

Administrators at the jail say they want to continue offering ged certificates to female inmates, and they’re trying to figure out how to pay for it. The jail could fund the program itself, or Seattle Central Community College, could help pay for it, said Hayes.

In the meantime, some female inmates may miss out on getting their ged, which could help them avoid recidivism and move them in the right direction. A study published by the Journal of Correctional Education about those who have completed the correctional education program found that a higher level of educational attainment is directly related to the likelihood a released inmate will obtain employment, according to a report.

The study also found that inmates with at least two years of college had a 10 percent re-arrest rate, compared with a national re-arrest rate of 60 percent.

“Getting rid of education [in prisons and jails] is one of the most damning things you can do,” said Ari Kohn, managing director of the Post-Prison Education Program.

Jail education helps inmates prepare for higher education and vocational training because it helps them on the compass placement test, a widely used measurement of adult basic education, Kohn said.

Those who do well on the test are more likely to follow through with their education.

“Education provides hope,” Kohn said. “And without hope there is nothing.”



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