Calif. To Redesign Prison Education Programs
(03/16/2011)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — State officials will redesign educational classes in California prisons following complaints that the programs fail to teach inmates the skills they will need once they are released.

A draft report released last week by the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board cited ongoing problems including “increased class size, reduced time in class, administrative paperwork, student turnover, wrongly assigned students, inmate homework, and elimination of some vocational education programs.”

In some California prisons, teachers handle as many as 150 students while inmates get as little as three hours of classroom instruction per week.

The report warned ineffective programs could hinder the “rehabilitative outcomes” of inmates and undermine efforts to reduce recidivism.

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Many of the problems arose last year after budget cuts led the department of corrections to develop five new academic models and a literacy program with reduced class hours in a bid to increase enrollment.

The department also slashed its vocational class offerings by almost half, keeping only “programs that are industry certified, market driven based on employment development outlook data, have a minimum starting pay of $15 an hour, and can be completed within 12 months.”

The report by the rehabilitation oversight board found the new educational models did not comply with recommendations of a 2007 expert panel and were not evidence-based programs.

Many of the 21,000 adult inmates enrolled in classes last year were placed in Model 4, which has a target student-teacher ratio of 120-1. Eighty-two percent of the teachers assigned to Model 4 programs said they spent most of their time completing paperwork instead of working with students, according to union surveys.

With the state’s budget woes, it is expected that the department will cut available classroom slots in order to lower the student-teacher ratio, reducing the number of inmates enrolled in classes in the near term.

Officials hope increasing class hours will improve academic performance and move inmates through the programs more quickly, opening new spaces.

If efforts to overhaul the academic models are successful, officials hope to revise the department’s assignment system, which determines how inmates are placed in various programs.

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