By Krissi Khokhobashvili
CDCR Public Information Officer
Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. recently appointed two experts to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) Office of Correctional Education.
Brantley Choate was appointed as Superintendent, and Shannon Swain was appointed as Deputy Superintendent.
“I’m honored to be part of the team to help lead this exemplary organization to new heights, create innovative resources for teachers and provide meaningful educational experiences for inmates,” Choate said. “This will ultimately lead to rehabilitation, living-wage jobs and hope for their future.”
CDCR’s prisons maintain fully accredited schools that offer academic classes, vocational training and courses in English as a second language, along with library activities. Accreditation is granted by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
CDCR has helped tens of thousands of inmates earn high school diplomas, general education degrees (GEDs) and even college degrees. In addition to academic education, CDCR also offers dozens of opportunities for inmates to earn nationally recognized certifications in a variety of vocations, including welding, cosmetology, carpentry and auto mechanics.
Choate earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in educational leadership from Saint Mary’s College and began his career teaching English as a second language in the Liberty Union High and Brentwood Union school districts.
He was owner of the El Dorado Tutorial Center in the 1990s, and founded the Golden Hills School in 1992, serving as its principal until 2003. He was chair of the School of Education at the University of Phoenix Sacramento Valley campus and served as principal and assistant principal at the Hayward Adult School.
He has been an adjunct University of Phoenix faculty member since 2002. He served as director of career and technical education at the Sacramento City Unified School District Charles A. Jones Career and Technical Education Center from 2008 to2011.
Prior to his appointment at CDCR, Choate has been Director of Inmate Educational Programs at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, a position he has held since 2011.
Choate said he has met many parolees during his career who were seeking job training.
“These students often shared stories with me of how the teachers in the CDCR system had impacted their lives and given them the skills and confidence to succeed,” he said. “It was heartening for me to hear these stories and to witness the changes they had implemented in their lives.
“It was obvious people who had participated in educational programs while incarcerated were better prepared for successful re-entry, and more willing to continue their education outside of prison,” Choate added.
In his time with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Choate helped expand educational programs from 1,500 to more than 8,000 students and established a high school program that serves more than 1,500 students. He also created interracial living areas and classroom settings that foster unity and tolerance, and created an inmate peer-mentoring program and computer lab with secure Internet access.
Swain said she has been driven to pursue a career in correctional education since her first day as a college intern in 1985, working at a halfway home for former offenders. She continued that interest as a teacher in Contra Costa County jails and during the development and implementation of a statewide parolee education program.
She has been a subject matter expert in correctional education at Synergy Technology and Correctional Services since 2012. Last year, Swain, who speaks Spanish, spent three weeks training wardens and Ministry of Justice professionals in Chile as part of their prison reform efforts.
“I believe that education is the key to successful transition for any offender, be that career technical education, obtaining a GED, completing college coursework or simply pursuing personal enrichment,” Swain said.
Millicent Tidwell, Director of CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs, is enthusiastic about the two additions to the Office of Correctional Education.
“Education is key to successful re-integration into society,” Tidwell said. “Brant and Shannon will make an excellent addition to our team of highly skilled teachers who have proven again and again that education is vital to rehabilitation.”
Both Choate and Swain look forward to improving public safety through inmate education, expanding technology resources in California’s prisons and preparing inmates for obtaining jobs upon their release.
“Education is the one thing you can offer someone that, once accepted, can never be taken away,” Swain said. “Through my years as a correctional education professional, I have learned that students will never cease to surprise me with their passion, drive and commitment when they are motivated to change their behavior and given the opportunity and the tools needed to learn.”