In a study done by the U.S. Department of Justice, inmates who participate in education while incarcerated are 43% less likely to be back in jail after they have been released. Inmates who received vocational or academic training are 13% more likely to be employed after they were released according to a study done by the RAND Corporation. Currently, the United States leads the world in the most inmates per capita.
In February 2020, LPC launched a business program that would help women inmates at the Federal Corrections Institution (FCI) in Dublin learn the basics of business and business management. The program has gone through changes due to COVID-19, but the professors and inmates have stayed committed to keeping the program going.
Most in society would turn a blind eye to the prisoners because of preconceived notions about what they have done, but the business program gives the inmates a second chance. The program has given them the opportunity to gain an education. It helps them plan for life after prison.
The business program at the FCI has had a profound impact on, not only the women within the program but the people who have invested time into the program as well. Professors who have taught in the program came out of the experience with a new perspective on teaching and interaction with students.
“While our living circumstances are different, they’re actually more like me than I expected,” said Christina Nystrom, a teacher for the Business program.
The program started as an idea. Kristina Whalen, VP of Academic Services had an idea to expand the adult education platform at LPC. The FCI offered programs to women inmates where they can earn some educational courses, but the program was mostly outdated and was not as big as it could have been.
Whalen and the business program at LPC saw an opportunity. An opportunity to bring together a program that can give educational opportunities to women who dream of having a better life.
The program was up and running by February 2020. Professor Drew Patterson, a professor of business studies at LPC, helped design the business program that would be used at the FCI.
Though the curriculum is essentially the same as the one taught at the college, there are some hurdles that professors have to jump through in order to teach their classes. Patterson has had to revise the way the professors teach the classes in order to follow the guidelines given by the FCI.
“Most teachers like to use Kahoot or PowerPoint to teach their classes, but at the FCI, computers are considered contraband. It really shapes how we can teach classes and makes us think of more creative ways to get the curriculum across,” said Patterson.
Professors also have to go through training courses at the prison where they are taught to not have close relationships with prisoners as some professors in the past have been tricked into giving inmates money or other items. Instructional DVDs are allowed in the prison but have to be submitted thirty days before instruction time for inspection. Professors often times have to resort to case studies, PDF’s and instructional packets in order to teach their curriculum.
The program hit a wall when COVID-19 shut down normal life as we know it. Classes were temporarily shut down as were all educational classes were around the country. The business program as a whole was forced to find alternative ways to teach their classes.
Professors weren’t able to be as hands-on as they previously had been. They had to adapt to the COVID-19 restrictions that were put on them.
When the program opened back up in May, the program had to adjust.
“We had to switch over to correspondence education which means we had to deliver all the materials to the students and have them work through the materials that were given in a packet,” said Emerald Templeton, a coordinator for the business program.
The program not only helps inmates adjust to life after they are released, but it also helps them shorten their sentences or get parole earlier in some cases. According to Templeton, completing the program goes a long way when inmates are asking for shorter sentences or when they have the opportunity to appeal for parole.
The biggest impact of the program was arguably on the professors who taught the classes. Professors and coordinators definitely had doubts about what to expect from the program itself. How would the women react to their teaching style and what protective measures would be taken to ensure the safety of the professors were questions that were circulating around Professor Nystorm’s mind.
“I was quite nervous. I grew up in Pleasanton and I lived in Pleasanton and it’s a completely different environment,” said Nystrom.
But once Nystrom got comfortable, her whole perspective on the prison program and on the inmates themselves changed. She was able to hear the stories of each of the women she taught and get a look into why they are taking the program.
One project Nystrom assigned was for the inmates to create a business plan for a potential business that they would be interested in making after they were released. One of her students created a business plan that she will never forget.
“One of my students created a bar with a daycare attached to it so parents can drink and party while their kids are taken care of in another room. I had a lot of doubts about it, but it showed their creativeness and their out-of-the-box thinking,” said Nystrom laughingly.
Many would have written off these women as criminals who are not fit for society, but the business program really does believe these women deserve a second chance. A sentiment that was echoed by everyone that was talked to was that some of these women were not entirely acting on their own, that some were pressured into committing crimes out of fear from others around them, especially the men that were in their lives.
The program not only opened the doors to many possibilities with adult education but also with education in the prison system as a whole. Templeton confirmed that the program is looking into the same curriculum, but for men possibly at the Santa Rita County Jail in Dublin.
The program has been a huge success over the past year. Many students who took the course will be able to add college credit to their name as well as the lessons they learned about how to start a business after they are released.
But possibly the biggest impact has been on the educators of this program. They came into the program not knowing what to expect, but they now have a new perspective on what the justice system does to women and how education can help them go further in life.
“Being able to understand these women’s thought process and what they’ve been through, I realized these are people that I would be friends with. I am not a lawyer or a judge, but the things that they are concerned about on a daily basis are the same things I am concerned about. That was my biggest takeaway,” said Nystrom.
Alan Lewis is the photo editor of The Express. Follow him @AlanLew89343503.
Nathan Canilao is the editor-in-chief of The Express. Follow him @nathancanilao.