A new carpentry program for inmates at the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility is one of several innovations made possible by a partnership with Barton Community College, LCMHF Warden Doug Waddington said Tuesday.
Waddington and other administrators from the Kansas Department of Corrections talked to college trustees about the work BCC is doing, and what they’d like to see in the future.
The college’s department of Workforce Training and Community Education has secured grants and a Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) contract to offer courses at LCMHF, Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility and Ellsworth Correctional Facility. Some inmates earn GED diplomas; others take college courses or earn certificates in trades such as welding, plumbing, computers or manufacturing skills.
“We wanted a carpentry program,” Waddington said, but there was no space. “Barton has purchased a post and metal building for us.” The cost was a 50/50 split between the correctional facility and the college. Inmates and staff are constructing the building, and poured the floors on Tuesday. The finished building, which will have a lab and a classroom, will be dedicated on Sept. 8.
Administrators want to incorporate more technology into correctional education, but adaptation comes slowly because of security issues. Administrators agreed. They praised Barton staff for being willing to work through those obstacles.
Waddington said the Larned facility acquired 10 tablet for its GED program. “This has gone without a hitch,” he said, adding the staff is selective about who can use the computers.
Wendy Leiker, superintendent at the Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility, said students there can take online courses, with supervision. There are 116 students at the facility, and 25-30 are enrolled in college classes at any time.
“It’s a privilege to participate,” she said.
It can be difficult for inmates to complete education programs. Minimum-security turnover at Larned is three times a year, Waddington said; 36 percent of KDOC inmates have a mental health diagnosis and 70 percent have substance abuse problems. Many have gaps in their education.
In spite of that, so far this year, eight LCMHF inmates have earned GED diplomas, 23 finished the Kansas Work Ready program, 29 finished the manufacturing skills program and 22 finished a Microsoft-based technology program, Waddington said.
Dan Schnurr, warden at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility, also praised the college.
“You guys have been in the forefront,” he told Barton administrators. “There is such good work going on that needs to continue.”
Kelly Potter, with the KDOC in Topeka, said Barton is meeting the contracted targets in enrollment and program completion, with the exception of the GED programs.
“I don’t want that to sound alarming,” Potter said. The 2014 changes in the GED program resulted in a national decline in the number of people taking the GED test and the number of people completing the program. The college has taken steps to remedy the problem, such as initiating inmate study groups and conducting tests to measure what area of study inmates should focus on.
“I think that we’re going to continue to see a lot of success,” Potter said.
William Rains, coordinator of Correctional Education Services for Barton Community College, said data show inmates are much less likely to become repeat offenders if they are actively involved in their education. The 36-month recidivism rate statewide is 34 percent, but the rate for those who go participate in correctional education programs is 9 percent, he said.