Spotlight on EdCC: Education in prison

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Photo from Monroe Corrections Complex website.

For every dollar spent on educating prisoners, the state of Washington receives $20 in return. According to Wanda Billingsly, Ed.D., Edmonds Community College Dean of Education at Monroe Correctional Complex, that’s a great investment.

Dr. Billingsly, along with MCC associate faculty member Dawnmoon Jaques, recently visited Edmonds Community College Foundation to discuss the college’s collaboration with the Department of Corrections to provide educational programs at Monroe Correctional Complex.

According to Billingsly, ninety-five percent of inmates will be released back into the community and educating incarcerated inmates helps them return to their communities as productive citizens. This creates safer communities and research shows inmates who participate in corrections education programs have 43% lower odds of returning to prison.

Billingsly has an educational leadership doctorate and uses research to guide her work to create goals and an atmosphere of excellence and accountability. She employs the Oz Principle of collective and individual accountability of owning it and achieving it. She believes prison education is innovative in reshaping lives.

Billingsly reported the ability of students in the program runs from second grade reading levels to students who are highly-capable. Prisoners’ lives often include stories of trauma and loss, and many have not learned to be resilient and bounce back.

Education helps them re-imagine their lives.

In fall 2017, the program educated 469 students at three sites. In winter, 482 students, all done without access to the internet.

Billingsly believes the GED is the pathway to something better. There is a pre-apprenticeship program in the works to get people into jobs, and she is listening to student voices to guide what they need.

Last year, 74 students passed the GED test, and the prison program facilitators recognize this as an important step.

Dawnmoon Jaques, MCC Associate Faculty, spoke about getting prisoners to do something productive with their hands, and one example would be to build housing for homeless people.

The prisoners have pleaded with her for more classes. They want classes in automotive, cosmetology, and trades.

The GED class is a mandatory program if they do not have high school diploma. Once they get a GED, they can get into training programs. They also need the GED to go out and work.

The program has 35 students at all times. When a student graduates, that student has “raised their own bar and potential.” It is exhausting for them to learn “you are not a victim.” Since many of the prisoners leave in debt with fines, one foundation board member noted nonprofit Financial Beginnings could provide helpful materials.

Jaques told the group that there are 450 students and some are disadvantaged, struggling. She said she has witnessed miracles out there, of men working to be productive, sometimes with a rival gang member across the table.

“My alma mater, EdCC,” said Jaques, “inspired me.” And she lets the men know that EdCC is also there to inspire them to complete the dream and graduate.

To support the prison education program, consider a donation to the Edmonds Community College Foundation.

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