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Grant Allows Some SRCI Inmates To Get Associates Degrees December 11, 2010

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

A noncompetitive federal grant is allowing a small group of Snake River Correctional Institution inmates the opportunity to leave the prison with something special when they’ve served their sentences: an associate’s degree.

Eddie Alves, Treasure Valley Community College director of education at SRCI, said the Oregon Department of Corrections is using the funding from the Grants to States for Workplace and Community Transition Training for Incarcerated Individuals program to contract with TVCC to provide courses leading to an Associate Of Arts Oregon Transfer Degree.

The grant has a dual purpose, however, Alves said. In addition to allowing inmates the chance to get an associate’s degree while in prison, it also evaluates the effectiveness of the program by tracking the progress and recidivism rate of the inmates who went through the program once they return to society with inmates who applied but were not selected.

“The whole goal is to prevent further victims,” Alves said. “Although it’s for the inmate, it’s for the community.”

Alves said 15 inmates are currently enrolled in the grant program. They are all within seven years of being released, he said. The grant does not permit inmates with convictions involving children to participate. The inmates take two college courses per quarter with the idea that, at the end of four years, they will receive their associates degree when they are released. TVCC implemented the classes last spring, and so far it has been very successful, Alves said.

Jacob Carter, 23, is an inmate enrolled in the grant program. By the time Carter completes the associates degree program, he will be ready for release from SRCI. Carter, who has a high school diploma, said he always intended to further his education once he got out of prison, and this provides him the chance to get a head start.

“I just think it’s a great opportunity,” he said. “I’m glad to have it.”

Thus far, he and the other inmates have taken speech, nutrition, a basic computer skills class and introduction to writing classes. While he said he is doing very well in the writing classes, his interest is in music, which he may pursue once he gets out.

Another inmate, James Robinson, 29, will also receive his associates degree shortly before he is slated for release, said he has not yet decided what he will pursue once he returns to society and harbors some concerns about his future. He said he really hopes having an associate’s degree will provide more opportunities for him, but he does not know what will be available to him because of his past, which includes assaults and escapes, even with a degree.

“There’s a lot of things I think about,” he said. “I know I’m not wasting my time.”

Alves said Robinson’s concerns are not unusual for inmates, and, in reality, they have less reason to worry than they may think.

Alves said another benefit to the grant is it allows other inmates not selected for the program to take the college level courses as well if they are able to pay for them. Without the courses being taught at SRCI, inmates have no other way to obtain further education because they have no access to computers or the internet that would allow distance learning.

Holden Smith, 22, is one of those inmates able to take the classes because of family support and takes the education he is receiving very seriously, although he has approximately 10 more years to serve at SRCI.

“Right now it means everything to me,” he said. “It keeps me focused. It keeps me in line.”

Smith said he has always loved learning but now appreciates the chance to learn more than he did before he went to prison. He also doesn’t want to let his family down, he said.

He looks at the opportunity as a way to take a bad thing and turn it into a positive one, although he has not thought beyond his day-to-day education. He said the program offers a whole different environment to him than that of general population, one that is positive that provides another focus and keeps him busy.

“That’s another plus,” he said. “Time goes a lot faster.”



1. Susan - December 12, 2010

There IS a way for inmates to obtain further education without online computers. After searching the entire country for an accredited university that didn’t just offer courses, but had an actual degree curriculum, I found California Miramar University in San Diego, CA for my son, who is at TRCI. In just over a year, he has completed 9 college courses towards his B.S. in Business Administration. All learning modules are sent via mail, his assignments and term papers are handwritten and mailed, and we get personalized attention from CMU when there is a problem or question concerning his courses. He takes 2 courses at a time on top of his full time job. While it makes the time pass very quickly, his further education will only add to his empowerment.