Language barriers are preventing some prisoners from participating in many of the self-help programs at San Quentin State Prison.
Although prison staff and the Community Partnership Manager make a concerted effort to bring bi-lingual volunteers into the prison, it is not proportionate to the diversity of San Quentin’s general population.
San Quentin’s recreational yard reveals a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and languages. Many are of Latino descent and other origins and are unable to fluently speak, read or write in English.
“This is a big issue for Latinos that needs to be addressed,” says Gustavo Pureco, a Spanish-speaking inmate. “There is no English as a Second Language (ESL) class in San Quentin’s education department. The tools to help us solve this problem are not available.”
Due to across-the-board budget cuts made in California in the past years, ESL classes have been eliminated at many of its institutions, creating a void of resources specific to addressing the language barrier.
“This is a big issue for Latinos that needs to be addressed”
A concern, especially among the Latino men serving life sentences, is that they can’t progress in their educational endeavors, such as earning a GED, or complete self-help programs like anger management-oriented groups, “that the parole board has asked me to complete before my next consideration,” said Santos Rene Flores.
To illustrate the problem, the standard education department classes available are Adult Basic Education 1, 2 and 3. Placement in each depends on the students’ score on the English formatted Test of ABE.
The result is that when nonEnglish-reading, speaking or writing students have low TABE scores, they will be placed in ABE 1, a class not designed to address the underlying language barrier. Such students must struggle to learn in a language other than their own.
“I take advantage of every opportunity given to me where I can practice speaking and hearing English,” said Jesus Manzanares. “But it falls short of what I need in order to learn English and earn the education that I need so that I can be successful when I re-enter into society.”