Westville education programs target life after release

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WESTVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Louis Hardy, of Gary, and Miles McQueary, of Marion, are taking responsibility for their actions and developing a higher level of social responsibility.

Dressed in prison khaki, they talked about how they hope education will lead them to success.

McQueary was one of 190 offenders at Westville Correctional Facility who recently earned a General Education Development certificate, now called the Test for Assessing Secondary Completion.

Another 257 offenders completed vocational education programs offered at the correctional center in Westville.

More than 60 families of those inmates attended the 31st annual ceremony to support graduates.

John Nally, Indiana Department of Correction education director, said education is one of the greatest incentives to reducing the rate of recidivism.

"As the level of formal education attainment goes up, the probability of employment post-release at sustainable wages goes up," he told The Times in Munster (http://bit.ly/1EB1oME ). "Individuals who choose to not participate in our correctional education programs are 3.7 times more likely to (return to prison)."

The current recidivism rate is in the low 30-percent range, said Steven M. Klosowski, who is with Grace Community Education Inc. at Westville Correctional Facility and at Indiana State Prison.

"Even getting the high school equivalency diploma reduces the rate," Klosowski said. "It's still their choice on the street, but we offer them the tools not to revert and come back here."

Klosowski said most of the inmates need education when they arrive, with almost 1,000 functional illiterate offenders at the site as of December.

"That's about 32 percent of our population here, meaning they come in at about first-grade reading and math levels," he said.

Hardy, 54, of Gary, has been in prison 14 months for drug-related offenses, and is set to be released in August. He dropped out of high school as a sophomore.

"I'm getting older, and I don't have a GED," he said. "I have kids and grandkids who will see that I went back to get mine. They can go higher than the sky if they see that I was able to get my GED. I think this facility helps you to accomplish that. It's worth it. I've got lots of goals now, but I've got to get the education first."

Teacher William Frazier said most students are motivated to learn.

"If a student is lackadaisical, I try and talk to them to motivate them, but if they just aren't interested they tend to work themselves out of here," he said. "We try to put them in a different program, but most of them are interested and committed."

McQueary, 29, dropped out of school in 10th grade. He spoke in one of the classrooms he spent months in to study and prepare for the new Test Assessing Secondary Completion.

"I got into the education program to better my life," he said.

"I want to be able to get into the workforce when I get out of here, so I can help my family," he said.

McQueary mentioned his mother's recent death, his divorce and his 10-year-old daughter.

"I had to take the initiative," he said.

Along with the education program, McQueary is in a treatment program for addictions.

"It's not only helped me with my education but I've learned in this program. I want to continue studying to better myself," he said.

McQueary said education has given him new confidence in himself.

Westville Correctional Center is mostly a medium-security facility, though it has some minimum and some maximum inmates.

The population ranges from 3,100 to 3,200 inmates on any given day. The facility releases an average of 50 inmates each week who return to their communities after having served their sentence.

Studies have shown education and vocational training are key factors to improving the likelihood an offender can return to the community and lead a law-abiding life.

Along with the TASC program, Westville offers vocational classes in five different programs -- culinary arts, horticulture, business technology, auto technology and auto body. Each of those programs is 350 hours, with 175 hours of hands-on experience and 175 hours of classroom work. To enroll in a vocational program, an inmate must have a high school diploma or passed the TASC program.

Joshua Massengale, 29, of Anderson, just finished the auto mechanics program.

"I learned a lot. When I get out of here, I'll be able to fix my own car," he said, adding he has a job waiting for him.

Klosowski estimated in the last five years, about 4,000 inmates have earned their high school equivalency certificate.

The prison offers a literacy program for inmates whose reading, writing and math skills are low. Klosowski said about 32 percent, or 993, offenders fall into that category.

"Those classes are full," he said. "We also graduate those guys through testing and classroom work to verify their improvement."

Those who graduate have improved their skills to at least a ninth-grade level, he said. That is considered literate.

Westville program director John Schrader said literacy is key.

"It could mean the difference between being able to get a job or not, when they get out of here," Schrader said.

As a security precaution, offenders do not have access to the Internet, Klosowski said. Everything is done by paper and pencil.

Inmates completing the basic literacy program may receive up to 183 days of credit off their time. An additional 183 days may be gained by completing the State's High School Equivalency Diploma requirements. Completing a vocational program results in 90 days of credit time.

"From our perspective, they are getting an education," Schrader said. "It also serves as a control aspect for behavior while they are incarcerated. While they are going through the program, they don't want to get in any trouble."

Klosowski said it's a huge incentive for offenders.

"If you have a two-year sentence, you can cut six months off by successfully completing the classes," he said.

The prison also offers a correspondence program through Grace College where inmates can earn an associate degree in interdisciplinary studies. It's not free. Inmates must pay $405 per course, so that excludes inmates who can't afford it, Klosowski said.

This fall, Notre Dame Holy Cross started an associate degree program at Westville, with professors coming in to teach the classes. It is free of charge. There are currently 39 participants. The college's goal is to have 200 inmates participating.

The prison also has an OTO, or Offenders Tutoring Offenders program. It was established about a year ago and allows offenders who are TASC graduates or college level to tutor other offenders. An instructor oversees that program, and there are about 15 students.


Information from: The Times, http://www.thetimesonline.com

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