April 25, 2019
Story and photo by Brandon Steinert
More than a year and a half ago, Jerry Jett was a high school dropout. He wound up arrested and incarcerated for aggravated robbery. He will be released in May. Statistically speaking, he would normally have a high likelihood of reincarceration, a trend known as recidivism.
Fortunately for him, and for society, Jett spent his sentence pursuing an education through Barton Community College’s program Building Academic Skills in Correctional Settings (BASICS) at Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility. He has earned a high school diploma through the General Education Development (GED) exam, took classes on managing substance abuse, received coaching on financial management and is pursuing training in welding.
Education in correctional settings is a proven method to reduce recidivism.
“Now I have a diploma, and now I have vocational skills,” he said. “When I get out, I can find a job, make money and get my life started.”
Jett plans to use his welding skills to get him by and pay for more school. He hopes to eventually become a registered nurse, or pursue a career involving computers.
Jett celebrated with 80 of his peers Thursday afternoon at LCMHF, where inmates were awarded various credentials including high school diplomas, welding, carpentry and plumbing certificates, Kansas WORKReady! Certification, Introduction to Craft Skills (ICS) certificates, digital literacy certificates and OSHA 10 certificates. Almost 30 of the graduates earned high school diplomas through the state GED exam.
Three speakers, all of whom had been incarcerated then went on to lead exceptionally successful lives, addressed the inmates, delivering messages of hope and encouragement to keep going.
“In all your being, be educated,” said Jeff Lee, who now serves in many social activist roles.
Jett’s peer Moises Villa hopes to do just that when he is released in July of 2020.
Villa was also arrested on aggravated battery charges and has been at LCMHF for a year. He earned a high school diploma through the GED exam and is now studying welding, which he will complete next month.
“In here, we have nothing but time, so I wanted to use it and come out with some knowledge of a couple things to better my life,” he said. “I want to work on airplanes. We’re big on aircraft in Wichita. This program gives us a lot of opportunities that a lot of us don’t have on the streets, and other facilities don’t give us the opportunities that [Barton] gives us.”
Villa said he was excited about the graduation, and as a 20-year-old he is proud to have secured his high school diploma and more.
“It’s going to be a good day,” he said prior to the ceremony. “I’m proud of myself and I feel very accomplished.”
Jett shared a similar sentiment, expressing gratitude for the chance to change his life’s direction.
“If I didn’t have this, I don’t know what I would do when I get out,” he said.
About Barton’s Correctional Education Offerings
Barton Community College has partnered with both LCMHF and Ellsworth Correctional Facility (ECF) to bring educational opportunities to inmates. Tuition and fees are funded either by the families of inmates or private donations from citizens who have recognized the program’s significant benefits to society. Barton recently expanded its offerings at Larned with the Kansas Department of Corrections new focus for the facility to serve young men.
A vast majority of inmates will eventually be released into society when their sentence is complete, and it’s one of Barton’s prerogatives, in partnership with the Kansas Department of Corrections, to make sure they don’t wind up back behind bars.
According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, state correctional facilities have a five-year recidivism rate of 76.6 percent. Education has been identified as having a tremendous impact on reducing recidivism, which ultimately saves taxpayers money on incarcerating inmates. For every dollar invested in inmate education, private or otherwise, taxpayers see almost a five-dollar return on investment in savings according to a 2015 NPR article.
For more information on the Barton BASICS program, including stats on recidivism and funding sources, visit bartonccc.edu/breakthecycle.