The benefits of developmental education are innumerable, but I’d like to add a perhaps underappreciated benefit to that list. Developmental education has the ability to reduce recidivism and increase public safety. Yes, you heard that correctly.
Each Friday I get pat-searched, brought through a series of locked steel doors and a razor-wire fence to be escorted across a prison yard to teach employability skills to women at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women. While to some this may sound like a daunting experience, it is the day I look forward to most each week. Friday is the day that I put my education and teaching experience to the test and work toward what fellow NDEC member, Darin Jensen, describes as working for the public good and “making that public good available to students where they are.” These students are in prison, but most will be released back into our communities. Even those who won’t be released have something to offer by mentoring and tutoring students who will and by sharing their stories with others.
As a developmental educator, I always viewed the work I do as important not only because I help students develop the reading and writing skills that they will need to be successful in college-level courses and in their professions, but also because I have the opportunity to empower learners to better understand themselves and the world around them by fostering the ability to interact with texts and language at a deeper level. While teaching employability skills to the women at NCCW, my internal radar—the one that detects students in need of literacy skills—goes off wildly in my heart and mind.
A quick internet search will turn up numerous documents and studies about which factors will play a part in whether or not these women will return to prison or not. Recidivism rates in the U.S. and Nebraska are ridiculously high, so I wanted to know how I could really make a difference for these students and the communities to which they will return. In a study by Roger Przybylski, it was determined that education and vocational programming work to reduce recidivism by increasing the rate of employment for ex-offenders. While this is widely known, a lesser-known indicator of post-incarceration success is the level of literacy skills offenders obtain while in prison. James Vaca stated, “Inmates need education programs that not only teach them to read effectively but also provide them with the necessary reinforcement that promote a positive transition to society when they are released.”
While we may, as outsiders, assume that the state offers programs to educate inmates and increase literacy levels, this is only the case for those people who come to prison without a high school diploma or GED. As developmental educators, we know firsthand just how many high school graduates need additional instruction in reading and writing. This is equally true for incarcerated individuals. I’ll admit it—teaching in prison programs isn’t for everyone. But the personal notes that are included at the end of the journaling assignments students turn in, thanking me for the work that we are doing through Metropolitan Community College’s Re-Entry program and for giving them hope for a better life, reinforces my belief that it is most definitely FOR ME. I believe it’s important for our special breed of educators, those with a heart for developmental students, to look for ways to bring learning opportunities to people who need them in new ways and even places. The effects and rewards for doing so may be more far-reaching than we could ever anticipate.
– Amy Doty
Amy Doty is an adjunct English faculty member and Writing Coach at Central Community College in Hastings, Nebraska. She also works as an adjunct Workplace & Literacy instructor in the Re-Entry program at Metropolitan Community College where she teaches employability skills to incarcerated women at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women. She is currently earning her Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership at Walden University and is in the early stages of developing a prison writing program for the women at NCCW. To contact Amy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org