Correctional education classes resume with limitations

OLYIMPA, Wash. — According to the Washington Department of Corrections, as of October 2nd there were only 28 active cases of COVID-19 statewide. The total number of confirmed cases 486 which means 456 inmates have recovered, but unfortunately two have died because of the virus. Compared to Oregon’s 164 active cases, just under eleven hundred cases in-total, 902 recoveries, and 12 deaths.

A spokesperson for the Washington Department of Corrections say its the highly trained medical staff among other things that lowered the case count.

“The Department of Corrections maintains a professional team of quality doctors, advanced practitioners and nurses that continually provide excellent medical care.  We have established Regional Care Facilities at correctional facilities closer to larger medical centers to improve our access to immediate medical attention and closely monitor patients.  We send people to the hospital if they need it and return them to the facilities when they are doing better. Due to our testing protocols where we test some individuals who are quarantined due to potential exposure or upon transfer/intake, a number of our positive cases have mild symptoms or no symptoms.”

Because of the drop in cases, Washington Correctional Education administrators are re-opening up the class rooms, but with limitations. New safety measures include reduced class sizes to accommodate social distancing guidelines, mandatory face covering requirements and frequent cleaning. The majority of classes are running on a hybrid-learning model.

The DOC says education is key for when the inmates return to society.

“Spring quarter we had to stop all face to face in person classes and do what we can with distance education; which meant for us paper packer deliver,” said Education Administrator Loretta Taylor. “97 percent of those in prison will be released to our communities they will be our neighbors eventually and this is giving them the tools needed to as I said get out and stay out and be productive members of society’s.”

PRESS RELEASE From Washington State Department of Corrections:

For students attending school in 2020, the coronavirus put classes to a grinding halt this spring.Those attending classes from behind bars already have to learn without access to many of the things regular students take for granted. There’s no internet. Limited class selections. No late-night university libraries. No dropping in to ask questions of instructors during on-campus office hours.

Throw in pandemic curveballs—like postponed or cancelled classes and no in-person communication with instructors— and getting a degree while incarcerated can seem impossible.

While the threat of COVID-19 remains on everyone’s minds, correctional education administrators have enacted a plan to allow classes to resume.

Most classes in correctional facilities resumed for modified in-person summer classes quarter July 1 so long as they follow a prescribed safety plan. The department’s corrections college programs safety plans follow standards set in the state’s higher education workforce plan, said Loretta Taylor, the department’s education services administrator.

New safety measures include reduced class sizes to accommodate social distancing guidelines and mandatory face covering requirements. The majority of classes are running on a hybrid-learning model.

Taylor said the while the health and safety of incarcerated students is the top concern among faculty, prolonged suspension of educational programs during the pandemic can have a detrimental effect—leaving students feeling discouraged and isolated.

Besides the degree in business management, Edmonds College offers other correctional education options which include adult basic education courses and certificates in web development, small business entrepreneurship and construction trades apprenticeship preparedness.

Approximately 3.9% of incarcerated individuals in Washington correctional facilities are serving life without parole sentences, according to the most recent data.This means the majority of incarcerated individuals will eventually finish their sentences and return to their communities.

Many incarcerated students like Young end up getting convicted of a crime before they complete high school.

Approximately 29% of people residing in a federal prison did not have a high school diploma or general equivalency degree upon entering incarceration, according to 2018 First Step Act data, the most recent year available. The First Step Act requires the Bureau of Justice Statistics (pdf) through its National Prisoner Statistics Program to collect data on inmate characteristics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

By comparison, approximately 36.9% of incarcerated individuals in Washington state correctional facilities did not have a high school diploma or GED when they entered incarceration at the end of the calendar year 2018.                                                                                                                                  

A 2013 RAND Corporation report found that incarcerated individuals who participate in educational programs while in incarceration were 43 percent less likely to commit future crimes that would return them to incarceration.

The Department of Corrections has requested $3.3 million in funding in the 2021-23 budget to fully implement the secure internet plan described in the 2SSB 5433 feasibility report (pdf), which would expand secure internet access to 10 additional correctional facilities, provide additional laptops to enhance educational opportunities available and fund specialist staffing to address the needs of incarcerated individuals with learning disabilities.