Thursday, June 4, 2015

Incarceration Education: (Note: The $26,000 Annual Tuition Includes Room And Board)

Rockingham Harrisonburg Regional "University"
What if jails were designed to educate instead of just incarcerate?

Each week volunteers come to our local jail to offer courses on employment, finances, parenting, and anger management, along with a couple of Bible studies and two AA groups. But space is limited, as are the number of guards available to escort inmates to and from classes (in handcuffs, as required here), so only a limited number can participate.

On the darker side, jails are also known to an have an underground "school of crime" curriculum that includes offerings such as the following:

Introduction to Criminality 101 This popular course, team taught by experienced professionals, covers such basics as fundamentals in shoplifting, the fine art of breaking and entering, advanced scams and con artistry, and how to avoid detection by law enforcement.

Promiscuity 201  There are plenty of inmates willing to share their sexual exploits with whomever enrolls, spinning endless tales about how to make out as though there were no tomorrow, how to get whatever you want in bed from whomever you wish, and how to cheat shamelessly and get by with it.

TV Trash and Trivia 301  Mindless junk food for the brain is beamed into each cell from dawn to well into the night. While offering little in the form of worthwhile education, television serves as a form of inmate pacifier, a mind numbing sedative in an environment that is clearly crazy-making.

Bumming Off The System 401  Both inside and outside of jail there is no shortage of peer education on how to use and abuse every possible governmental and charitable agency. On the inside, inmates are provided free room and board at a cost to those on the outside of $26,000 a year, not a great example of how most of the real world works.

Advanced Drug and Alcohol Abuse Seminar  This well attended class is available every day year round. It offers multiple and unimaginable ways of getting high, hints on how get started in the prescription drug trade--and into the even more lucrative drug dealing business--and details of all of the immediate steps addicted instructors will take to get the bottle, needle, and/or pharmaceutical fixes they've been craving night and day since being incarcerated.

OK, since we don't really want that, what if we could provide an affordable and creative educational alternative for inmates?

Here's a modest proposal: 

Develop a library of DVD courses that could be shown on portable TV monitors available on each floor every weekday from nine to five, on subjects such as the following:

Conversational Spanish or English
Basic composition, writing
US or world history
Math and science
History documentaries
Communication and relationship skills
Health and fitness
English literature

The possibilities are endless, with a library of resources put together by interested members of the community and with weekly selections made by groups of individuals in their respective cell units. Viewing would be totally voluntary, and any homework and note taking would likewise be optional, but participants would be encouraged to develop  a portfolio of notes on each DVD lesson or series of lessons covered. Some free manila folders could be provided for this purpose, with additional folders and writing supplies available through the commissary.

Students could also be encouraged to create their own written "exams" (with correct answers) that would summarize the main points covered in each topic series and which would be included in their portfolio. Periodically, each person's work could be reviewed by community volunteers who would offer critiques and commendations of each student's efforts. Completed folders could then be used by inmates upon their release to show prospective employers and others what they have learned and skills they have gained on their own initiative while incarcerated.

In addition, jail staff could produce a kind of monthly "citizenship report card" which would note whatever other ways an inmate has demonstrated good citizenship and modeled good use of their time while behind bars. These would be provided by request to add to an inmate's portfolio, for him or her to use in whatever ways they chose upon release. Perhaps other incentives could be offered as well for those who demonstrated exemplary behaviors.

None of this would be a panacea, of course, and the far better option would be to invest in more classes and job training on the outside. But this could be a giant improvement over the endless boredom and waste of time and creativity involved in just being warehoused for weeks and months on end.
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