Education is the key to curbing recidivism, community activist and teacher Jane Curtis says.
“The more educated people are, the better decisions they make,” Curtis said at the recent San Quentin graduation of 74 inmates in programs ranging from GED to college degrees.
Encouraged by San Quentin’s education programs for its incarcerated, Curtis who is retiring after 20 years said she recognizes what it takes for students to improve their lives: its the programs for higher learning.
“This is a unique prison. It shouldn’t be a unique prison,” said Curtis. “We know that education programs behind the walls reduce recidivism. There is plenty of proof for that. So why aren’t we doing what works? Well, that just seems to be what politics is about.”
She commented that all California’s prisons would benefit from having education programs such as those at San Quentin, including Prison University Project (PUP), GED, Coastline College and Project R.E.A.C.H. (Reach for Education Achievement and Change with Help).
Curtis said replicating Patten University Project could be a difficult challenge because accreditation is required from an outside university and numerous volunteers are needed.
“R.E.A.C.H. can be replicated easily at other institutions,” said Curtis. “You partner with the literacy program on the outside. They come in, do the trainings. They support the tutors and the tutors within the prisons are models for the other inmates.”
Curtis said Angel Falconi and Kenyatta Leal, both valedictorians and tutors for Project R.E.A.C.H., are residents of San Quentin and give back to the community by teaching their colleagues.
“You’re using resources within the institution which are your better-educated lifers who have a lot to give back,” Curtis said.
In 1990, Curtis joined the Marin Literacy Program and went on to create additional educational programs. She went on to start the Families for Literacy program. Her objective was to tie it in with breaking the cycle of low-level literacy from one generation to the next.
Yet it was in 1993, when the head of Sacramento’s Family for Literacy at the State Library asked her if she would like to go to prison.
“I said ‘I would love to do that,’ but I requested to go for two years, not one,” Curtis said. “I wanted to create a program based on the Families for Literacy program on the outside and tie it in with breaking the cycle of incarceration. So you’re breaking two cycles at once.”
Curtis developed the Fathers Program at San Quentin, where she worked with the Central office to roll it out to six other prisons. But it is now closing due to lack of funding.
BOOKS TO PRISONS
“We brought collections of children’s books. I developed a training to work with libraries to work at other prison,” said Curtis. “As with so many things I think the most successful programs are the ones least-embraced by the department.”