Opening opportunities for women inmates

By Della Elliott

The Pathways to Success Academy connects inmates with college courses.

The inmate journals tell the story best about renewed hope and aspirations that a new program offered by Grossmont College has brought to a local women’s jail.

Haydee, an inmate at the facility, described the many lessons she learned in a counseling course on College and Career Success, one of three classes offered at the Las Colinas Detention and Re-entry Facility. The Pathways to Success Academy is a joint pilot program between the college and the jail that provides nine college credits, tutoring and financial aid information to inmates who succeed in the five-month regimen of instruction, homework and tests.

“My (lack of) self-esteem was a crucial part in my life that didn’t let me see anything other than feeling sorry for myself,” wrote Haydee, one of 21 inmates who signed up for the classes.

In addition to a counseling class that offers instruction in study skills, time management and note-taking, the students take a communication class to learn public speaking and communication skills, and a college reading class to improve their vocabulary, comprehension and reading speed.

“I have learned many positive strategies…the main one is, I am responsible for my own choices,” Haydee wrote.  “Goals and dreams will be accomplished making the right choices. I am no longer a victim.”

Branching into higher ed

The Pathways to Success Academy is Las Colinas’ first foray into higher education, although several adult education courses are offered, including ones to earn a high school equivalency certificate and others training inmates for careers in areas such as culinary arts, landscaping and commercial sewing. Those courses are provided by East Region Adult Education, a partnership between the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District  and the Grossmont Union High School District.

The academy, which concludes in June for the semester, reflects a new philosophy at the 1,200-inmate jail, which was revamped in 2014. With the improved facilities came a greater emphasis on re-entry services that included academic and pre-employment classes.

“Inmates leave better prepared for reintegration to the community, lowering the chance of re-offending,” said Christine Brown-Taylor, the re-entry services manager for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. A 2013 study by the RAND Corporation found that inmates who participated in correctional education programs were 43 percent less likely to become repeat offenders than inmates who didn’t.

The program is funded by the sheriff’s department, which provides the books, supplies and laptops used by the instructors. Grossmont College provided three instructors: Linda Thomas, who taught college reading and provided tutoring; Denise Schulmeyer, who taught interpersonal communication; and Pearl Lopez, who led the counseling course. The students were screened to ensure they are low-risk inmates who had finished high school and to verify their sentences were long enough to complete the classes.

Nearly all the students are on track to pass the program, with Thomas’ class increasing their reading ability by an average of two grades. Once they complete the last of the courses, the students will receive certificates of participation.

There’s more to the story. Read the full article in CC Daily.

Della Elliott

serves in the communications office at the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District in California.