N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--September 1998

Education program improves chances of success

SHELBY For the past year, 18 medium custody inmates at Cleveland Correctional Center have been attending classes six hours a day, five days a week, learning the skills needed to become plumbers, carpenters, welders and electricians.

On Aug. 7, all their hard work paid off as they became the first graduating class in the 19-year history of the comprehensive education program at Cleveland Correctional Center to be awarded diplomas for their efforts rather than certificates.

Rosaline Hunt, director of the comprehensive education program, was probably more excited about the graduation ceremony than the inmates who worked so hard to complete the program. Since 1979 when the vocational training program was first started at the prison, Hunt has been a part of it. She has participated in 73 graduations prior to this one, but has never been able to hand the inmates diplomas for their efforts until now.

"I’ve received quite a few diplomas in my life, but none made me as proud as the diplomas received by these guys," she said.

Working in conjunction with Cleveland Community College, Cleveland Correctional Center offers vocational training to inmates recruited from prisons across the state. Up until this past year, the prison only offered certificate courses lasting either six or nine months. However, with the conversion of the community college system to the semester system, the prison was able to convert its courses to a full 12 months, enabling the inmates to receive actual diplomas for their efforts, improving their chances of finding good-paying jobs on the outside.

"This is a very beneficial program," said Eddie Ross superintendent of Cleveland Correctional Center. "If we can reach some of these guys and give them a marketable skill for when they get out, I feel the program is worthwhile."

Hunt said other than the fact that the classes are taught inside the prison fence, the courses and requirements are exactly the same as those offered at the community college right down the road. She said the inmates must attend class, study for tests, complete assigned projects and maintain a 2.0 grade point average to graduate from the program.

In addition to the vocational training, Hunt said the inmates must also successfully complete classes in reading improvement, math, communication skills and human relations.

"We educate their hands to do a trade, but we also educate their minds," she said.

Tom Whittaker, the welding instructor for the program, said all the instructors in the program focus on teaching the inmates the fundamentals necessary to obtain and keep a job.

"My goal is to teach them as much as I can, so when they get out, they’ll be able to support themselves honestly and pay taxes like the rest of us," he said.

"We teach them enough skills, so they should be able to find jobs making enough money and won’t have to supplement their incomes by doing something illegal." u


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