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Education for Inmates

May 17, 2003

Re "Union Targets Inmates' College Program," May 10:

The Blythe chapter of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. believes it is wrong to provide state-funded education to rapists, molesters and murderers, but I say, who better to educate?

I recently served as a juror for a rape trial. After we convicted the defendant, we learned that this was not his first offense. Apparently, during his eight years in prison he had learned only more contempt for women.

Maybe this particular rapist would not have benefited from a college education, but we'll never know because it wasn't offered at Corcoran State Prison, where he served his time. Now he will be sentenced to 30 years to life. He will become one of the state's geriatric inmates whose medical care and incarceration will suck funds from our communities for years to come. At $750 per inmate per year, an AA degree that might have prevented a second imprisonment seems like a bargain. Education isn't a privilege; it's a necessity. Don't close down the program; expand it.

Sarah S. Forth

Los Angeles

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That California's powerful prison guards union tried to kill one of only two programs in the state allowing inmates to earn college degrees is no surprise to anyone who has paid attention to union rhetoric that panders to popular attitudes supporting retributive justice. The guards, through their union, have consistently cast themselves as "us against them," characterized inmates as enemies and opposed nearly anything that hints at the possibility of rehabilitation. They have parlayed this rhetoric and huge contributions to the governor and other politicians into excessive wage and benefits packages.

I was a correctional worker in California for 17 years. I am saddened that California, a former leader in correctional policy and program innovation, has yielded leadership to a union that appears devoid of creative thinking beyond its own selfish interests. Why are we paying such high salaries to people who appear to be out to sabotage programs that have the potential to reduce recidivism?

Paul Raymer

San Diego

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I was saddened and appalled at the union's inability to see the value of inmates receiving an education. As an individual who has supervised defendants awaiting adjudication of their federal cases, it was apparent to me that many did not have the skills or education necessary to be minimally successful after their period of incarceration was over.

Perhaps the prison guards need to think twice about the education program. After reading "Leaves for Prison Guards Criticized" (May 9), I believe that some of their fellow guards may be in need of these same services if they are convicted of the various offenses cited in the article: sex with minors, sex with inmates, drug possession, loading pornography onto a prison computer, vehicular manslaughter and offenses involving violence. Oh yes, and don't forget the counseling.

Wilhelmina Jones

Culver City

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As a religious volunteer who conducts Buddhist services for state prison inmates and as the father of one inmate, I often have direct contact with correctional officers. The guards always have treated me well and I appreciate their fine efforts under difficult circumstances. But I am surprised that the prison guards union chapter at Ironwood State Prison in Blythe, Calif., tried to kill the program offering inmates the chance to earn college degrees and, hopefully, a way to change their lives.

One would think they, as well as all citizens, would favor efforts to rehabilitate inmates and cut down on the recidivism rate (which is very high in our state). I hope they are merely misinformed about the community college program for inmates; the school's president makes it clear that it does not deprive other citizens of opportunities. I fear that the guards' opposition raises an ugly question: Do they want more parolees to fail and return to prison, guaranteeing lifetime employment for the guards?

Al Albergate

Hermosa Beach

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The correctional officers' union wishes to cut $210,000 from the massive $5-billion corrections budget to do away with college education for felons. The correctional officers wield great power in Sacramento, due in no small part to their massive political contributions to the governor and the leadership of both parties. As sophisticated as they are, one should assume that they know that cutting education programs will not save the taxpayers money but will in fact result in higher prison costs.

According to state regulations, prisoners who take part in education, vocational or drug treatment programs earn credits toward parole. If prison education programs are closed, then the prisoners stay longer, the union gets richer, the taxpayers get soaked and, in the end, we have more crime. Californians must demand that the Legislature and the governor set an attainable goal of a 15% cut in the corrections budget. This can be done by trimming fat and moving elderly, ill and nonviolent prisoners to settings that are most appropriate for them, including geriatric hospitals, drug treatment centers or parole.

Glenn Backes

Director, Health Policy

Drug Policy Alliance

Sacramento

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