October 2000

Warren staff take college classes at facility

WARRENTON - A cooperative, innovative venture between a local community college and prison unit is enabling staff to earn college degrees without leaving facility grounds.

A year ago, about 15 staff at Warren Correctional Institution began taking classes that lead to an associateís degree in criminal justice from Vance-Granville Community College. The on-site program was the result of planning and work between Warren Supt. Ted Smiley and community college officials.

Since the college was already teaching classes for inmates at Warren, offering courses for staff seemed a natural 

extension, said Fred Wilson, a vice president at Vance-Granville. Wilson credits Smiley for his commitment to get the program off the ground. "Ted has taken the initiative to allow this to happen. Heís made education a priority for his staff and for the inmates here."

For his part, Smiley said he believes the college courses will help retain correctional staff and will bring the students closer together. "Iím a big 

believer that if you take care of staff, theyíll take care of you. Hopefully, these classes will help staff meet their career goals, whatever that may be."

Two nights a week, the staff-turned-students gather in the prisonís training room for school. This semesterís courses are Organized Crime and Criminalistics, which includes study of forensic science. Correctional Officer Barbara Williams said going back to school after several years was hard. "The first class was pretty tough, but I knew I was going to stick with it," Williams said, adding that one day she hopes to become a probation/parole officer.

Williamsí enrollment in the community college program has also had an effect on her children. "Homework is a family event at our house; we all get around the table and do it," Williams said with a laugh, commenting that she usually finishes her task before her children finish theirs.

Another student already has one AA degree, but her work in corrections is leading her to pursue a second in criminal justice. Correctional Officer Brenda Turner says she probably wouldnít have enrolled in the classes if she had to travel to campus. "Itís just so much easier to take the classes here," she said. Turner said the classes have improved camaraderie among classmates. "Sometimes we talk during our lunch break and other breaks about class and assignments," said Turner, whoís been with the Department for four years.

From the community collegeís perspective, the Warren CI students are just like other students who take classes at its traditional campuses. "We felt if there were adequate numbers of students to enroll that it would be something we could support," said Wilson. "Itís so much more convenient for the staff to take the classes before or after their shifts, and with the campus 20 miles, it makes common sense to offer the courses here."

Both Wilson and the students credit their instructor, Tim Roberson, for much of the programís success. "Tim has a background in law enforcement and also has the ability to teach. Sometimes thatís a difficult combination to find," Wilson said. CO Williams said Roberson is "great" and explains concepts in ways that she can understand.

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