Highline College

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Prison program puts a crimp in prison pipeline

Mary Weir

Caleb Ruppert Staff Reporter May 27

The new Prison-Based Education Program at Highline offers incarcerated students an opportunity to plan for their futures.

“Our mission is to offer transformative education inside local prisons and jails to empower students to define and achieve their educational and career goals and to make our community safer by breaking cycles of poverty and violence,” said Mary Weir, the director of the program.

The program offers a College 100 course in which students reflect on their educational histories, discuss educational pathways and degrees, work on individual goal creation, positive thinking, and resume writing, she said.

“College 100 is a one-credit class that takes place over the course of one week, so that students who are only in jail for a short time have time to complete the class,” Weir said.

The program also offers workshops in conjunction with other organizations.

“We have partnered with CASE to offer a resume writing workshop and King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division to offer an Introduction to Peer Support workshop,” she said.

The program has offered College 100 three times since its creation in February 2019, Weir said. The hope for the 2019/2020 school year was to offer College 100 four times, host two college fairs, and reach out to 250 people. While on track to meet these goals, the coronavirus put a damper on the program, and it has had to overcome obstacles that have come with it.

“Jails and prisons face extraordinary challenges right now, due to the impossibility of social distancing inside jails and prisons,” Weir said. “The jail where we work, SCORE, has closed its doors to in-person programs in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.”

Coronavirus is not the only obstacle. Being incarcerated itself can create obstacles.

“People incarcerated at SCORE do not have access to the internet, which means that communicating is extremely challenging,” she said. “We are working to pilot some videos and possibly some synchronous virtual workshops.”

The program is based out of SCORE jail, or the South Correctional Entity, in Des Moines. It is an 800-capacity jail that holds inmates from six member cities: Auburn, Burien, Des Moines, Renton, SeaTac, and Tukwila.

“I’m proud of the partnership that we’ve built with SCORE, and I’m proud of offering all of the classes and workshops,” Weir said.

These classes and workshops give students the chance to feel as though they can live life without going back to jail.

“Jail is not the end. I can do something with the rest of my life. I don’t have to come back,” said one anonymous student.

The program has also offered students a new perspective on education and life.

“Never take yourself for granted. Give yourself an opportunity, even if you don’t think that you deserve it,” said another anonymous student.