Task force aims to curb recidivism

By Cynthia Velez-Regalado - Staff Reporter

James Jackson says education gave him hope and belief in himself.

"I think Highline should support a re-entry program to provide for the justice-involved students to transition into college," said Jackson, now Student Government president at Highline.

Jackson has experience, serving almost 10 years in the justice system for a drug offense.

"I did about nine years and three months that included a halfway house," he said, "for possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine."

Currently Jackson is pushing for State Bill 6260, post-secondary education for inmates. 

The bill forces the Department of Corrections to provide educational opportunities for inmates. 

The bill doesn't ask for money, just for the opportunity for education, said Jackson.

Jackson is involved in a Highline task force focused on helping students who were part of the legal system.

Students who have been part of the legal system are "justice-involved students," said Dr. Steve Lettic, the department coordinator for the Criminal Justice Program at Highline.  

"This program is an innovative approach that works with justice-involved students in helping them reintegrate into the community," said Dr. Lettic. "It's also an effort to give direction and motivation as well as curb recidivism.

"The program will help the community by providing assistance to those reintegrating into the community and potentially curbing recidivism," he said.

 "Right now it's a task force, a work group," said Mariela Barriga, a student success coordinator at Highline. 

The task force had a meeting in late October. At the meeting, multiple representatives were present, from the SeaTac Detention Center, Pioneer Human Services, Regional King County jail, Department of Correction Re-entry Division, and state probation officers. 

"[A] piece of feedback we received from the meeting was we needed to have a re-entry specialist," Barriga said.

"We hope to create this new position," she said. "Other colleges have this position; they have a specific person.

"[We want someone who] understands where they're at, be sensitive," said Barriga.

"It costs $60,000 to house a single inmate and it costs less than $10,000 to provide an education for them," said Jackson.

People coming out of incarceration need support, Jackson said.

"[Justice-involved students] don't know how to access the resources available to them," he said.

"[The re-entry specialist would be] supporting them to get tuition, FASFA, pointing them towards housing, making it easier for them to get their driver's licenses, or helping them get an Orca card," he said.

A re-entry point person would help them with basic needs and support them, said Jackson. 

"[This is] a way to service our whole community, some are underserved," said Barriga. "[The] college works towards equity and social justice." 

Jackson said being required to get some education while in prison saved his life.

 "I requested to go to Phoenix and they sent me to Safford FCI [Federal Correctional Institution]," said Jackson. "They have a partnership with Eastern Arizona College. They lead a business program.

"It's a requirement for you to be involved in their educational program," said Jackson.

A teacher at the prison said "Jackson, you got these great scores, you should take some of the college courses." 

"I was thinking to myself 'I'm not going to do that,'" said Jackson. "She told me 'you have great scores and great potential.'" 

"So I did it just to see how I would do," he said. "I took marketing and cultural anthropology.

"It was fun and I got a 4.0 in both classes," said Jackson. "It gave me belief in myself and hope.

"Education changed my paradigm," he said.

Jackson kept taking classes and enjoyed it.

 "I was cleaning out the closet," Jackson said. "I was thinking more clearly, I wasn't using drugs and alcohol," 

"I didn't want to die in prison," he said. "I didn't want to die like that."

"When I got out I needed, I wanted to go to college," said Jackson. "I went down to Goodwill Training and Education center."

"There they had class free classes. One of them was College 101, that is college navigation. They walk you through financial aid. Finding a school to go to, finding the classes you're interested in, they help you with registration," he said. 

"They paid for my first quarter," said Jackson. "They paid for an Orca card, for my transportation."

"[Education] gave me belief in myself and hope," said Jackson. "I went from convict to student."


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