By Dana Simas, CDCR Public Information Officer II
Office of Public and Employee Communications
As a result of the multi-year effort by a team of dedicated California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) staff, approximately 7,500 inmates are finding access to college easier than ever.
The Rehabilitative Advancement team, comprised of employees from the Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP), Enterprise Information Services (EIS), Division of Facilities Planning, Construction and Management Design Standards Unit, and Division of Adult Institutions, worked for several years to get the brand new eReaders into the hands of inmates.
The team was recently awarded the “Outstanding Project Team” award at the 2015 IT Project Delivery Summit last month. The Project Delivery Summit brought together state employees who manage, direct, sponsor and participate in the delivery of State IT projects.
The eReaders help offenders achieve milestone credits with increased access to college curriculum textbooks. These prison-approved eBook readers are pre-loaded with college textbooks and are provided to inmates enrolled in college courses through Voluntary Education Program (VEP).
Delivery of the eReaders to inmates by the Fall semester this year kept Project Manager Sirisha Gullapalli and User Project Champion Sarita Mehtani up late many nights.
“There were multiple challenges throughout the process, each one of them was different,” Sirisha said. “I grew personally and professionally.”
It was truly a labor of love for the entire eReader team from concept to delivery with many unexpected hurdles along the way, including the Port Workers Strike that held up the eReaders at Los Angeles Port Authority for several months.
“There were many people saying that this project was not going to work,” Sarita said. “But there was a lot of dedication and hard work by the entire project team and we were able to get this project completed.”
Sirisha and Sarita never quit though and thanks to their efforts, along with the entire eReader development team, more inmates are able to attend college and focus on their rehabilitation.
“The best part was finally hearing from the inmates and how the eReaders have been life-changing for them by allowing them to take college courses,” Sirisha said.
At a recent focus group with the first cohort of inmates to use the eReaders for college courses, many of them agreed that the eReader has not only encouraged them to continue to take courses but it has also piqued the interest of other inmates who are unable to afford college textbooks.
Previously, inmates and/or their families were responsible for paying the costs of college education such as tuition and textbooks. The eReaders are now loaded with certain course textbooks through a 180-day license paid through CDCR rehabilitation funds, which is less expensive than purchasing physical books.
Shemaiah, an inmate at Central California Women’s Facility, is taking four courses this semester and appreciates the eReaders for lowering costs and keeping course materials updated.
“I’m taking a lot of classes which costs a lot of money for books that I just don’t have, but I need an education,” Shemaiah said. “With (the eReaders) I also get the most recent edition of the book. When we share some of the other physical books, some are several semesters behind.”
It’s been repeatedly shown the more education a person receives, the less likely they are to commit a crime. In the case of current inmates attending college classes while incarcerated, it dramatically reduces the likelihood he/she will reoffend once back in society.
To meet prison security standards, the eReader team had to work with the manufacturer, Innertainment Delivery Systems (IDS), to create the product from the ground up. They have clear cases so prison staff can see if there is hidden contraband or if something has been tampered. It also has no wireless chip or ports so it cannot be used to access the Internet in any way.
“This was a great way to get institution staff used to the idea of inmates having these types of devices,” said Shannon Swain, Acting Superintendent of CDCR’s Office of Correctional Education. “There are more positive rehabilitative changes coming.”
DRP continues to strive for more innovative ways to engage inmates in rehabilitative programs. Acting Director of DRP Brant Choate is setting his sights high in 2016.
“The ultimate goal is to increase functionality of this new technology and expand access to education,” Choate said. “We have a comprehensive plan for improving our overall rehabilitative programs and once we implement that, California will be on the forefront of offender rehabilitation.”