Western Courier

Cait Educates Inmates

Jacqueline Covey

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 A few weeks ago, the McDonough County Jail — by way of Western Illinois University’s Center for Application of Information Technologies (CAIT) — took the lead on incarcerated educational development.

 i-Pathways, a “teacher created and approved” module-based program developed by CAIT in 2000, is an adult aimed curriculum, which two years ago was employed within the Illinois Department of Corrections.

 Brandon John, an i-Pathways project manager, said after seeing such positive results within prisons he wanted to test it at a smaller scale.

 He sees major benefits to the community and the convict — as it would aid him or her to “move on with their life in a more positive direction.”

 All of the lessons on i-Pathways were developed alongside adult educators in Illinois: the Illinois Community College Board; a 30-year Rand Corporation survey found education programs reduces recidivism by 43 percent.

 “See the problem is, you know I’ve always wanted to be able to offer this, but in order to prepare inmates for the GED, somebody would have to come in the jail… or we’d have to take them out to get the education,” McDonough County Sheriff RickVanBrooker said.

 VanBrooker was enthusiastic about implementing the self-contained educational system. He said, by estimation, an inmate would need 150 hours in order to complete the program. However, because i-Pathways is linked in with the IDOC system, inmates can transfer their progress from the county jail to the prison. If their sentence has ended before completion, credits can be transferred to a community college with the same capabilities — i.e. Spoon River College.

 On Oct. 19 VanBrooker’s “test person,” Denise Coulter, 24, began the modular-learning pilot experience, and he’s ready to see what’s to come.

 “We would make it available to her eight hours of the day if she so chooses,” VanBrooker said. “…I would like to see the inmate actually go through the modules, fully complete the i-Pathways, and then take the test. I am curious to see how successful it’s going to be, and just roll the dice with how long that inmate is going to
be here.”

 The sheriff — visibly “very appreciative” — the matchup between the university and McDonough County jail is only natural.

 “We’re an educational community, this makes sense what we’re doing,” VanBrooker said.
 “And I always run worst-case scenarios through my mind, but the positives, I believe, are going to out-weigh any negatives.”

 After the inmate has completed the programs — basic math, reading, writing and science — Spoon River Outreach Center, located past Wal-Mart on East Jackson, hosts the GED test for $120.

However, this fee is paid for in commissary money, which are jail profits from the little “extras (i.e. phone cards, candy, etc.),” VanBrooker said.

 “I’m going to be honest, it’s not as simple as I thought it was going to be,” Inmate Coulter said after her first four days with i-Pathways.

 Coulter dropped out of high school a few days into her senior year, she said that the examples offer her the “repetitiveness” and explanation needed to complete the program.

 “At the end of the module …there’s a review and you’re able to actually test yourself,” Coulter explained, “to see how well you grasp it, which I’m not doing as well as I thought I would right off the bat.

 “It goes into detail, and you work on it throughout the module. You can restart, and it gives you different examples for the section.”

 Of the 39-current inmates at the McDonough County Jail, seven did not hold a high school diploma or GED. Coulter was among those who volunteered to take on i-Pathways. John said that a screening process generally takes places, in hopes to push those who have the ability to endure the process.

 “We want to make sure whoever is selected, (that) they going to be able to finish it,” John said. “(We don’t want to) have it end up turning them off to pursuing it (a GED) once they
are released.”

 i-Pathways works on wireless hotspots, and restricts any other Internet, or general-computer usage.

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Cait Educates Inmates