By David Liebler
Step inside this college classroom and at first glance, you will see a scene played out at many community colleges throughout California. Casually dressed coeds sit at their desks, listening to their instructor, answering questions and participating in discussions. Inspirational sayings can be found on the walls and whiteboard.
But on the outside, the barbed wire and correctional deputies in uniform at the Day Reporting Center tell you this is no ordinary college course – and it’s no typical setting. It’s Imperial County’s unique and highly effective Inside/Out College Program that brings inmates and local community college students together in a classroom setting to explore sociological issues through discussions, assignments and team projects.
“Study after study has shown that education is really the most successful and permanent way to change behavior,” explained Imperial County Sheriff-Coroner Ray Loera. “This is an opportunity to break the cycle, give them the tools and confidence they need to know to go out and know they can be productive citizens.”
Statistics show the value of such a program. According to a 2014 RAND study, inmates who participate in correctional education programs have a 43 percent lower chance of recidivating and 13 percent higher chance of finding work after being released. And in Imperial County, there is a critical need to improve educational achievement; nearly 13 percent of adults over 25 lack a high school diploma compared to a statewide average of 8 percent.
But with limited resources, collaboration was needed. And that’s exactly what happened in Imperial County; in 2014 the County Sheriff’s Office, Probation Department Community Corrections Partnership and Imperial Valley College partnered to develop the Inside/Out College Program – the first in California that provides college courses for inmates incarcerated in a county jail.