Since 2009, almost 700 incarcerated youth and adults have had the opportunity to pursue a higher education through Barton Community College’s grant funded Reach Out, Retrain and Re-entry (R3) project. This number shattered the project’s initial goal of 250 participants, and with a recent government grant extension, many more will have the same opportunities, according to Elaine Simmons, BCC’s dean of Workforce Training and Community Education.
The initial $2 million Community-Based Job Training Grant in 2009 was used as the primary funding for the R3 program. The availability of remaining grant funding has been extended until Aug. 15, 2012.
BCC has provided academic coursework in correctional facilities since 2002 through a partnership with the Kansas Department of Corrections. After receiving the grant, BCC extended this partnership with a host of community-based entities to provide vocational training for incarcerated youth and adults in Kansas correctional facilities and community corrections.
The grant has allowed BCC’s correctional facility offerings to come full circle, Simmons said. "We felt that we were lacking the opportunity to provide vocational or career technical training for inmates in addition to our academic offerings, and the grant afforded us the ability to offer this."
The R3 program offers educational and job-based training opportunities ranging from plumbing, welding and HVAC, to Computer Certification and Computer Aided Drafting.
According to a second quarter 2011 report, 18.1 percent of program participants have entered employment upon their release, with an employment retention rate of 76 percent.
Ellsworth Correctional Facility Business Administrator Chris Merritt said the program provides a valuable service to the institution and the inmates.
"We have great communication and interaction with the staff at BCC. It’s excellent, and it allows us to offer a service and work to develop programs that are forward thinking," he said. "We are trying to prepare these inmates to become productive, successful members of our communities upon their release."
Simmons added that the program benefits not only those who are involved with it directly, but that it also positively impacts the community as a whole.
"Everyone’s hope is that those that have been institutionalized don’t return to a life of crime once they are released from a facility, because they will now have job skills to provide for themselves and their family," she said. "We want to continue to serve more inmates and work with the Department of Corrections in their mission and effort to keep Kansas safe."
Simmons said the ultimate goal is to utilize the grant to establish a strong framework that transitions the R3 program into a self-sustaining, permanent program once the grant expires.
"One of the greatest challenges is that the grant has been paying the tuition and fees associated with these inmates receiving training, and without that grant there is a huge gap in available funds for this purpose," Simmons said. "We are having discussions about looking for alternate sources for funding whether it be a new grant, donations or other workable options. It’s a big challenge that we’re working on right now."