By Ygraine Montgomery, San Joaquin Delta College
San Joaquin Delta College works with CDCR to enhance the public good by providing high quality instructional programs and student services for inmates.
This partnership allows both institutions to better serve inmate students and prepare them for new careers and a successful life path after incarceration.
“In addition to our correctional science certificate and degree, which prepares students for future employment with CDCR as a correctional officer,” said David Terry, professor of Correctional Sciences in the Administration of Justice department at Delta College. “San Joaquin Delta College has three additional ways it supports the rehabilitative mission of CDCR.”
One way Delta College supports CDCR’s mission is by supporting inmate mental health. The majority of psychiatric technicians for the CHCF facility are Delta graduates, he said.
“We take care of patients with substance abuse issues, bipolar diagnosis, and schizophrenia,” said Dr. Geronimo Hinayon, a psychiatric nurse and professor at Delta. “We can do psychological first aid, we can do counseling within our scope of practice … and then we can refer patients to a therapist.”
In 2013, Delta received funding from the Department of Labor to scale up the psychiatric technician program to provide hundreds of jobs for the new CHCF facility. As a result, over 270 Delta psychiatric technician graduates found jobs, and many of them entered the CHCF workforce.
“We’re here for the inmates, and we help people in what is often the lowest part of their life,” said Hinayon. “We can motivate them in positive ways, and that’s where we get our satisfaction.”
Another way Delta supports CDCR is by teaching on-site general education classes at Deuel Vocational Institution and at the Chaderjian and Close sites of the Division of Juvenile Justice.
The benefit to providing college education to current and former inmates is clear – it dramatically reduces recidivism. According to a 2016 report by the RAND Corporation, “inmates who participate in any kind of educational program behind bars are up to 43 percent less likely to return to prison.”
Therefore, providing a solid education in a responsive environment is one of the best ways to support current and former inmates, as well as benefit their families and the community.
Delta College has been providing general education classes to inmates since 2017. Current courses include English, History, Computer Science and Psychology.
However, starting with the fall 2019 semester, Delta will be offering inmates the option of a psychology Associate of Arts degree for transfer to a California state university.
“It’s a really special and unique program and it’s going to help so many students,” said Lourdes Sanchez, Student Programs Specialist at Delta. “We give them the chance to see themselves as college students and see that they’re capable of completing their degree.”
There is no cost to the students. Inmates qualify for the California College Promise Grant, which allows students to take the classes free, and the facility covers the cost of textbooks.
“I’ve found that the connections with our current professors and students have been amazing, and that’s why students sign up semester by semester,” said Sanchez. “This program will help reach those students who didn’t initially see themselves as college bound, and help them prosper in the future.”
For those students who want to continue their education after release, the transition from prison to college can be daunting and discouraging.
Former inmates face a unique set of challenges upon release, and these issues affect everything from housing to getting a job and even just getting a state I.D. card, so it’s crucial to provide personalized support.
This is the third way Delta College supports CDCR’s mission.
“We’d like to have a place that students know they can go, and somebody there is going to have knowledge, experience and sensitivity to their circumstance,” said Ed Aguilar, manager of Delta’s Office of Student Equity and Diversity. “We’ve begun conversations with CDCR and Parole to create a pathway to the college.”
This pathway is the Phoenix Project, a program that Aguilar is creating to support and respond to the unique needs of formerly incarcerated students. Students chose the phoenix, the ‘symbol of second chances, of rising from the ashes’, to be the emblem of the program.
“Professor Terry is one of the folks on campus who has experience working in the criminal justice system and also with formerly and currently incarcerated students,” said Aguilar. “He’s one of our allies as we build the foundations of the program.”
Phoenix Project students will receive assistance finding housing, employment search support, and help communicating with social workers and probation officers.
Bus passes, assistance with books and supplies, mentoring and peer support will be available, along with study space and workshops.
“Having a place for [the students] to check in, having someone to assist them throughout the whole process, from applications all the way through their educational plan … we’re hoping that we’ll see more students begin to say ‘I want to be a part of that.'”
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