Helping those who may have fallen through the cracks

By Dana Simas, Public Information Officer

Attaining a high school diploma or GED is hard enough for the average inmate, but imagine the difficulties facing an inmate who is blind, deaf or has a severe learning disability.

It’s the job of Disability Placement Program teacher Kris Szovati to help level the playing field for such an inmate.

Szovati, who has been with CDCR for 17 years, has a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in special education.  She helps inmate students at High Desert State Prison who need one-on-one tutoring and testing accommodations. She also acts as a liaison between the inmate and the teacher to ensure the inmate is able to comprehend the material being taught.

DITL Disability teacher 2

Disability Placement Program teacher Kris Szovati speaks at an inmate graduation.

Szovati has a roster of inmates each day she must track to make sure they are in the right program and classroom. One of her students is legally blind, another has a severe learning disability, and three are deaf and require the assistance of a sign language interpreter. She visits the inmates for a one-on-one tutoring session at least once a week and provides specialized help with their assignments.

“I believe education needs to be individualized,” Szovati said. “My job allows me to be able to do that based on the inmate’s own special needs.”

Szovati also supervises the “Talking Book” program for inmates who cannot write. Inmates are given the opportunity to digitally record themselves reading a letter or a book to send home to their children and family.

The inmates that Szovati helps tutor are in seven different parts of the institution. She has students in Yards A through E, the treatment center, as well as in Administrative Segregation.

“I spend a lot of time walking,” Szovati said. “If I had less travel time and more time with the student I could potentially have a greater impact.”

Despite timing challenges, Szovati has several success stories of disabled student-inmates who overcame the odds and managed to obtain a GED.

One such inmate was legally blind and about to parole but desperately wanted to obtain his GED before his release. He did not pass the first time taking the test, but Szovati put in the hours helping the inmate study for his second attempt. Szovati practiced with the inmate using an Optelec machine that magnifies the text. After much practice, the inmate student passed the test, earning his GED before being released into the community.

Szovati’s special dedication to helping inmates, who often fall through the cracks of the public education system on the outside, not only helps the inmate achieve a useful and life-changing accomplishment, but also helps the community to which the inmate eventually will be released.