United States Department of Education Update
Have you heard of the Reentry National Media Outreach Campaign? This project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation exists to bring the issues of prisoner reentry to greater public awareness. Its work brings forward information about “the problem,” about state of the art research on what works in this arena, and about specific model programs. Because it is a media outreach campaign, it includes a lot of rich video materials to augment publications and web based resources. The videos include interviews with experts, numerous program site visits, interviews with returning offenders, and interviews with crime victims. These are being made available to public television outlets.
Reviewing some of these products, I was reminded that the work done by educators in correctional settings is often somewhat invisible – perhaps this is one reason that correctional education programs seem like easy targets for cuts during times of budget shortfall. It is heartening to see a serious attempt being made to bring issues of offender reintegration before the public eye. Even “insiders” can learn from these resources more about the scope of work needed to prepare offenders for reentry to support them through reentry transitions. The model programs highlighted address a wide range of the challenges that are associated with reentry.
The full array of issues our students confront upon reentry are included – issues of employment, health, housing, family relationships, post release supervision and social affiliations. Education can best be seen as a significant aspect of all these arenas – and probably should not be isolated as an arena unto itself.
The U.S. Department of Education is charged to administer the discretionary grant program titled Life Skills for State and Local Prisoners Program. This program is intended as a demonstration program to develop, test and disseminate mechanisms to impact recidivism by providing life skills instruction and related services during the period leading up to release. I was pleased to see Department of Education Life Skills projects included in the model programs highlighted by the Casey Foundation media campaign.
As I have come to know these various Life Skills programs, I have noted that effective programs don’t necessarily look like school programs. Often they provide instruction in the context of services addressing family, health, or employment issues. I was also struck as I reviewed various types of reentry programs highlighted by the Casey Foundation that many non-education programs incorporate educational services. Whether it is a housing program, a health program, or a faith based mentoring program – the design almost always incorporate education.
Most of us who belong to the Correctional Education Association and who read the Journal of Correctional Education have a proud professional identity as educators in correctional settings. We know that we bring an important set of skills to the mix when offender reentry programming is implemented. We’re challenged to maintain this professional role while not building walls that would prevent us from effectively binding our contributions with other critical aspects of reentry programming. Our “students” have needs that can be addressed when they are “clients” of workforce professionals, drug treatment specialists, social workers and other key professional groups. So we owe it to our students to be engaged in constructive ways with these other professionals.
The Casey Foundation project highlighted a very positive example of educators working with a model reentry program. A dynamic relationship exists between both the Windham School District of the Texas Department of Corrections and the schools of the Texas Youth Commission and “Project Rio.” Project Rio is a very well documented workforce development program provides an array of employment transition services. The Rio model is based on an understanding of the important linkage between educators engaged in pre-release education and workforce professionals working in community settings with returning offenders, employers, and public employment service agencies. Professionals in both settings with well-articulated linkages bolster the offenders’ success potential. Rio has been replicated beyond Texas, and there are certainly other good examples, but more must be done to make this type of articulation the norm and not the exception.
(Information about the Annie E. Carey Foundation Reentry National Media Outreach Campaign can be accessed at the web site: www.reentrymediaoutreach.org.)
Copyright Correctional Education Association Jun 2004
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