There is a growing trend in America of educating prison inmates. In fact, Wichita County has adopted a program helping inmates earn their G.E.D. The goal is for them to not return to prison after they are released. However, educating these inmates presents some challenges, both in and out of the prison.
One out of every one-hundred adults in America is incarcerated, once those prisoners are released studies show that 67 percent of them wind up back behind bars. But, educating inmates greatly reduces those chances.
"We have a lot of people who are repeat offenders. A lot of them just have less education or no education or very minimal education, said Wichita County Sheriff, David Duke.
In Wichita County the Annex Jail and Region 9 have teamed up to help inmates further their education to get their G.E.D.
"We're looking at possibly serving those inmates that are there without a G.E.D. and give them that, to try to fill a gap for them and try give them an open door when they do exit the system," said Octaviano Garza, Adult Education Coordinator for Region 9.
"If we save one person and get them on the right track, I think we were successful, but, we gotta have the infrastructure to do that as well as the opportunity," said Sheriff Duke.
Educating inmates presents some complications like safety and security, not to mention a designated area to be used as a classroom. Miguel Lechuga, the Region 9 G.E.D. Instructor said, in the free world students have access to computers and internet but, in jail access must be limited.
"There's also some limits because they can't take them back with them to study, like we used to do in school," said Lechuga.
The lieutenant in charge only allows inmates to take three pieces of paper back to their cells and they must be stamped by Lechuga. While in class, inmates have access to books, calculators, writing utensils, and other instructional materials.
"We do homework, we study, we use the books. I give them tests, I give them quizzes and so there is work involved," said Lechuga.
The opt-in program can only admit a few inmates into the class. Not to mention class sizes fluctuate due to inmate release, parole and transfer.
"We're limited by size and instructor. The current room that we have at the County Annex, I think 12 or 15 would probably be the max and I think also it becomes an issue of security," said Garza.
The classes are not mandatory. Inmates must decide on their own to join the program, which helps weed out those who aren't serious.
"Nobody forces them to come in here and try to learn so they have to want to do that. They can leave at any time, it's not a once your in you have to complete the course. So it's up to them, it's their decision," said Lechuga.
36-year-old Isaac was in the class and is now back in jail for missing a court date. He dropped out of school in 10th grade and said taking the class was something he had to do.
"It was something I just felt like I needed. Not only for the class here but for myself. You know, and sometimes I feel like I can accomplish something and do something good. Everybody deserves a different chance and I figured I'd better myself, and why not start here," said Isaac.
The real problem with inmates taking classes is retaining them as students once they've been released.
"Obviously when they get released they're back to life issues. That, and you know they have to find a source of income and housing. And you know, sometimes that becomes a priority and education is not really at the top of the list," said Garza.
But Lechuga said, he tries to give them that motivation. "I also try to infuse in the students a sense of self-worth, a sense of hope for the future through education, bettering themselves, so they hopefully can do that once they're released," said Lechuga.
Octaviano Garza, Adult Education Coordinator for Region 9 said, they try to be as flexible as possible and get the word out that the classes are free. "What we try to do is offer classes as flexible as we can so that we can accommodate the largest population," said Garza.
They offer classes for flexibility. Morning classes are from 9:00am to 12 noon the evening classes are from 6:00pm to 9:00pm. Region 9 serves all 12 counties, Wichita County is the largest.
"Life forces you to do and make bad decisions because you don't have a lot of choices. And this I believe opens a lot of better choices for them," said Garza. Lechuga said, "Every student that has come through here bar-none has always said, yes I needed to do this, yes I needed to get my education back or completed."
Isaac also commented saying, "I just learned from the last time I was in here, I learned I could go to college and do something and try to do something as a trade, or do something like that. So that's what I'd like to do. I mean that's what I feel like I can better myself by doing that."
A good support system helps inmates continue their education once they are released. Sheriff Duke said, everyone makes mistakes and an education will help give inmates a second chance.
"If we can help educate people just a basic education and get a good job and learn, hey I can make my money legitimately and raise a family, you know, and do the things I need to as a responsible adult, then they're a more productive person in our society," said Sheriff Duke.
Isaac said, "You know what I'm saying. If you got the right mind and the want to do it then you can get it done." and Lechuga said, "If one of them does not return into the system, that is success."
Classes at Wichita County Annex Jail resumed this month and Garza said this time, 17-year-old inmates could be admitted into the program.
The classes offered at Region 9 are free, not only for inmates who are continuing the program but for anyone looking to earn their G.E.D.
To learn more about the Region 9's program, CLICK HERE.