Prisoners at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco are getting a higher education and earning time off their sentences through the Norco College program, reports the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
The new prison program started in February 2017. Norco’s original plan was to start the program in the fall of 2018, but that was not soon enough for prison officials.
“They said, ‘We want it now,’” said Jason Parks, Norco College’s interim dean of instruction.
Bryan Reece, Norco College president, added, “It’s right in our backyard and it’s in our core mission. We are trying to educate historically under-served populations. These folks just happen to be in prison.”
“Not everyone in prison is the same people when we’re released from prison,” Norman Jordan, 55, a participant in program said to the Daily Bulletin.
“64% of California’s jail population is awaiting trial or sentencing as of December 2016.” Most remain in pretrial custody because they cannot afford bail. Jail Profile Survey, http://www.bscc.ca.gov/
Courses in English, communications and counseling were offered at the beginning of the program. For the fall semester there were 105 students enrolled. All the prisoners have less than 10 years to serve on their sentences.
“Because we’re wearing blue doesn’t mean that we’re not human,” said Osmar Castro, 39, referring to his blue prison clothing. He has four years and three months to serve on a 12-year sentence, according to the article.
“The state typically spends $71,000 a year to house an inmate. It costs about $5,000 total to help put one [incarcerated] student through community college”, reports Fast Company.
Inmates can earn time off their sentences by participating in and completing educational and vocational programs.
The faculty is equally enthusiastic about this new program. “They’re knocking on the door,” said Parks. “They’re saying, ‘Please, pick my major.’”
A Daily Bulletin reporter sat in on a presentation by students of a Communications Storytelling class.
“My presentation is on how Robin Hood became an outlaw,” prisoner Robert Beebe told the class.
The 41-year-old Beebe dropped out of the ninth grade then joined a gang. He did two two-year prison terms prior to being arrested for attempted murder in the mid-‘90s.
“This is like getting a whole new life, getting this education”
“When you don’t come out with a clear mind, you go right back to what you know. And I went right back to the area, the people,” Beebe said. “I never really looked for a job and just chose to commit crimes.”
Beebe has been incarcerated for 19 years on a 20-year sentence, and completed his GED while in segregated housing.
“I’ve been going positive since then,” he said. “I’ve dropped out of the gangs. I’ve changed where I’m living at, my whole mindset, everything’s changing.”
Beebe continued with his story of Robin Hood. How he committed a crime (killing a deer in the king’s forest) that carried a death penalty and fled into the far woods to join a group of other outcasts.
“That day was the last day of his life without enemies,” said Beebe.
Prior to enrolling in this program, Beebe earned an associate’s degree in theological studies that awarded him a six-month deduction off his sentence and will allow him to parole in a few months.
Beebe said getting a college education has changed his life.
“When I came in here, I didn’t have college on my mind. I didn’t think I’d ever make it out of prison,” he said. “I started with one course and now I do five, six at a time. It benefits me; it keeps me away from the negative out there. I am in here every day. If I’m not at work, I’m in here.”
If paroled, he plans to pursue a higher education.
“This is like getting a whole new life, getting this education,” he told the reporter.
A 2013 Rand Corp. study revealed inmates who participate in educational programs are 43 percent less likely to return to prison. They are also 13 percent more likely to become employed after released. The study suggested that every $1 invested in prison education saves taxpayers $4 to $5 after a prisoner released.