Hundreds complete educational, vocational programs in Arizona, Mississippi

Giving offenders the opportunity to pursue an education is a priority for CDCR, no matter where the students are housed. This includes inmates incarcerated at facilities run by private contractors outside the state of California.

CDCR contracts with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to house offenders at two out-of-state prisons, Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility (TCCF) in Tutwiler, Mississippi, and La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona (LPCC). At both facilities, inmates have the option to earn their GED and/or participate in Career Technical Education (CTE) programs in which inmates learn vocational skills to help them find jobs after release.

“CDCR places a huge emphasis on offender education,” said Ralph Diaz, CDCR Undersecretary of Operations. “Whether that takes the form of earning a diploma or a vocational certificate, the end result is that participating in educational programs while incarcerated leads to better futures and reduces the likelihood an offender will return to prison.”

A study by the RAND Corporation found that for every $1 invested in offender education, taxpayers saved $4-$5 in incarceration costs, as offenders who receive an education are less likely to reoffend. Peggy Levins, manager of educational services for CCA, pointed out that even for those offenders serving longer sentences, there are still many benefits to receiving an education.

“CCA is focused on enhancing our rehabilitation and reentry efforts because we know they benefit everyone involved, starting with the inmates themselves,” said Levins. “Having a GED improves their overall quality of life. It motivates them to learn, and it gives them something to work toward.”

Allan Gilbert, who enrolled in an electrical vocational course at LPCC, said when he enrolls in courses he’s thinking not just of himself, but of how it will help his family in the long run.

“As an inmate, I wanted to take advantage of any opportunities that I had to participate in vocational classes,” he said. “The knowledge that I received after taking the electrical class will not only help me with my own home repairs, but will open up previously unexplored career options. I’m interested in continuing my education by taking the Microsoft certification class to further boost my skills and update my computer literacy.”

Inmates who are transferred to a CCA facility are tested and evaluated to determine their educational need, which allows staff to plan an appropriate instruction plan for them. In 2015, 73 inmates earned their GEDs at LPCC, and 10 earned GEDS at TCCF. Currently, 50 are working toward GEDs at LPCC, as are 26 at TCCF.

CCA’s Industry Work Program provides inmates the opportunity to earn money while also learning a trade. The Microsoft Office Specialist Program certifies inmates in Microsoft Office programs. At the two institutions combined, nearly 400 offenders have earned certifications in Microsoft Word, Excel and/or PowerPoint.

In 2015, 711 offenders participated in Career Technical Education (CTE) programs at LPCC, as did 402 at TCCF. There are 144 students enrolled in CTE at LPCC and 231 at TCCF.

Breaking those numbers down paints a portrait of the diverse vocations taught at these facilities. Since January 2015, 110 TCCF inmates have participated in NCCER Core, a foundation curriculum of the National Center for Construction Education and Research that covers basic safety, communication skills and introduction to construction drawing. An additional 105 went through carpentry, 14 took electrical and 50 did plumbing. At LPCC, 147 offenders did Core, 57 did carpentry, 93 studied electrical and 63 participated in the plumbing program.Additionally, 459 LPCC inmates participated in the facility’s Master Gardener/Horticulture program.

“The electrical vocational course was important to me because I worked in this industry on the streets,” shared LPCC inmate Robert Buss. “Taking this class has enabled me to stay current on various construction codes and wiring methods. After completing the course, the opportunity arose for me to complete tutor training and advance to become Mr. Herold’s electrical class tutor. Being a tutor is fulfilling for me because I enjoy helping other people succeed and better themselves before they parole.”