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KTVL CBS Channel 10 :: News - Reality Check - Crime with Benefits: Educating Inmates

Crime with Benefits: Educating Inmates

By Krystle Henderson/KTVL.com

SALEM, Ore. - They've broken the law and now, they're not just in prison, they're in class. The Oregon State Correctional Institution and Chemeketa Community College are turning prisoner's sentences into study sessions.

Thousands of Oregon prisoners like Nicholas McCarty are getting high school and college educations behind bars.

"To me, focusing on education in here is the best use of one's time in prison," McCarty said.

With the College Inside Program, prisoners are earning college credits, not just bookwork but taking part in much more.

"I had the opportunity to be the founding president of Toastmasters Club in here, I earned my associate's degree in here, I've done a lot of stuff that I never would have thought possible in prison," he said.

Prisoners taking courses have to go 18 months without getting in trouble, they have to write up an essay expressing their desire to get a degree and then they have to keep a 3.0 GPA or better.
"A person has to take the initiative to seek out those opportunities, so the individuals who are involved in those types of programs are usually the ones with higher aptitude, higher ambition, those activities aren't for the norm of the prison," McCarty said.

McCarty even tutors. His hard work will continue when he's released from prison later this year. He was recently accepted into Portland State University where he has plans to double major in community development and business administration.

About 95 percent of Oregon prisoners will eventually be released from prison. Corrections officers say prisoners getting their education behind bars makes them less likely to get locked up again.

"The cost on incarceration is huge and truly our state pays a lot to incarcerate individuals and why not help them become better citizens and why not help them become people who can get a job, go on to the universities, get better education," Director of Corrections Education Nancy Green said. "It's important to give them valuable tools, valuable education so that when they release, they don't come back to prison and what we know is that education does impact recidivism, our recidivism rate for our college inside program is extremely small, our students are not coming back to prison."

But what about those prisoners who will never leave their cells?

"These individuals need to function as inmates in our inmate community they are stabilizing factors for the inmate population many of them who are engaged in education are less of a problem for security, so when these individuals are participating in education programing or other activities, they are not causing problems for our correctional officers and staff, so they can be engaged in meaningful activities," Nichole Brown, education and training administrator for the Oregon Department of Corrections, said.

Most prisoners will be leaving the prison walls returning to society.
While prisoners are no longer getting college education on your dime since the removal of the Incarcerate Individuals Grant Program and with the Pell Grant no longer available to inmates, prisoners receiving GEDs behind bars are.
The reason your tax dollars are being used for the GED program is because federal law requires that all prisoners must have an adult basic education.

38 percent of inmates coming to the prison are lacking that basic education. Oregon pays for about 700 GEDs a year.

The Adult Basic Skills Development continuum, which includes ABE, GED, ESL and Special Education, operate under a two year budget cycle for the state. For 2009 through 2011, the budget for education was $13.6 million.

"I believe that's the best thing we can do for Oregonians and the state and these tax paying citizens who are investing their dollars, the best thing that we can do is show them that these individuals not only participated in the programs but they reintegrated back into society and became tax paying citizens," Brown said.

McCarty said his education has made him a totally different person.

"College has been a game changer for me, I had very tentative plans for my release earlier in my sentence and as I neared completion of the college program at OSCI, I very clearly saw what I was able to pursue walking out the door," he said. "I could attend a university, I can earn degrees, I can earn degrees with honors if I apply myself, which of course opens other doors beyond that."
Crime with Benefits: Educating Inmates

Sunday, August 4 2013, 09:57 AM CDT


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