Feather River College- Incarcerated Student Program

Education with a Human Touch

The mission of Feather River College’s Incarcerated Student Program is to offer a high quality transferable Associate Degree in Liberal Arts to a diverse incarcerated student population. Our mission is to also offer life skills courses that
culminate in an Entrepreneurial Business Certificate. Our program will enhance personal development and rehabilitation through an effective learning process that helps students to attain their goals, thereby increasing their self-worth, confidence, and employment opportunities. The program will encourage students’ communication and critical thinking skills, and lifelong learning habits. In addition, the ISP seeks to broaden societal understanding of incarcerated student populations.

College Coordinator for Voluntary Education Program Troy Barker, FRC incarcerated student Douglas Andrews and ISP Director Dr. Joan Parkin review the efficiency of using advanced technology in education.

College Coordinator for Voluntary Education Program Troy Barker, FRC incarcerated student Douglas Andrews and ISP Director Dr. Joan Parkin review the efficiency of using advanced technology in education.

A Liberal Arts program with a Heart
Incarcerated Student Program offer inmates higher learning and higher hopes
By Ann Powers
Staff Writer

Football games, parades and slow dancing to "Stairway to Heaven" can only mean one thing....

Homecoming is in the air.

It's all part of the excitement and fun of getting a new school year underway and rewarding students as they advance to the next level of their academic careers.

However, there's an invisible student population who won't share in those festivities, even though many educators say their curriculum is more academically rigorous than that of their peers - on the outside.

They are the 575 student inmates working toward their associate of arts degree through Feather River College's Incarcerated Student Program.

In 2007, FRC opened its doors to inmates for the first time in the community college's history. ISP offers a free transferable A.A. degree, a Certificate in Business Entrepreneurialism and is beginning a vocational-technical culinary program.

ISP started with 60 student inmates at the California Correctional Center in Susanville. It has grown to nearly 600 pupils, at 26 prisons statewide and one county jail.

A.A. degrees have been awarded to 130 ISP graduates, according to Dr. Joan Parkin, ISP director and co-founder.

"I firmly believe that no one - regardless of class, creed, race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality - should be denied access to the pursuit of a college degree," she said. "I believe that a college degree holds special meaning for the incarcerated because, as B.B. King so eloquently said, 'The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.'"

Maybe not. But, skeptics question the taking away of taxpayer dollars to house and educate a population, that some feel, isn't deserving of privileges.

"There are people who pay taxes, don't break the law and have to pay tuition," said Jerry Hoover, a former FRC criminal justice instructor and police chief. "And then you have inmates who have broken the law and they get a free education?"

Not so much a free education, rather a smart investment with a promising return, according to San Quentin educator J. Kaufman.

"A major portion of California's budgetary pie is spent on (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) incarcerating prisoners," he explained. "All the preeminent prison research studies show that educating inmates reduces recidivism."

Incarceration costs $48,000 per inmate per year in California. Studies show an inmate with a two-year college degree has 17 percent likelihood to re-offend, compared to an 85 percent recidivism rate for those without any college experience.

It costs about $6,000 to educate a prisoner. The state's 85 percent recidivism rate is the highest nationwide.

"You do the math," said Parkin. "Funds can be reallocated to other areas of need by spending less taxpayer dollars on incarceration.

Program officials also emphasized ISP provides much needed revenue for FRC. Since its inception, the program has raised over $3 million in funds, much of that from the increase in Full Time Equivalent Student numbers generated by the program.

"The revenue has helped to sustain costly unique programs and helped the college survive during lean financial years," said Parkin. "Particularly during the Great Recession."

There's also a safety benefit - inside and out.

"Post-secondary education programs provide prisoners with opportunities and tools required for successful re-entry into society and has enormous public safety benefits," said former CDCR Secretary James E. Tilton. "An ex-felon who is educated is a much better neighbor than one who is not."

And, even for those sentenced to life, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency reports violence is less likely to erupt if educational programs are in place. Many wardens, staff and guards say the reduction in violence is one of the main reasons they prefer to have educational and rehabilitation programs in their facilities.

Others questioned an inmate's commitment to learning, versus just signing up for classes because they're bored.

"I know what it feels like to be the red-headed step child," said Valerie Campa, an administrative assistant for FRC's athletic department. "A lot of people don't want athletics, so I sympathize with ISP. But, (prisoners) have to buy into it. They have to really want it."

They do, according to the convicts themselves.

"I don't know precisely when I started thinking that a purposeful life might still be available to me," said Peter Nelson, a FRC student inmate housed at the Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo. "But, I do know that I wouldn't have reached that line of thought if the instructors at Feather River hadn't given me cause to. Their input led to a fundamental shift in what I thought about my own capabilities, and what I believed was attainable. I found myself hoping."

October 21, 2015 - Plumas County News