Higher percentage of inmates in Oklahoma earn GEDs than those not imprisoned

Oklahoma prison education programs are said to reduce recidivism rates; sacrifices made by other adult learners contribute to lower completion percentage
by Tim Willert Modified: December 21, 2013 at 11:00 pm •  Published: December 21, 2013

Four decades passed before Roy Pursley finally decided to get serious about his education.

Prison motivated Pursley, 59, a ninth-grade dropout serving time for drug possession, to obtain his general equivalency diploma, or GED.

Now he's encouraging fellow inmates at the James Crabtree Correctional Center in Helena to do likewise.

“I wanted to better myself and show my daughter that you're never too old to get an education,” he said recently. “I never thought about school until I came here.”

Pursley and about 1,000 other state Corrections Department inmates received GEDs earlier this year after passing tests that measure proficiency in science, mathematics, social studies, reading and writing.

“I think a lot of them realize they now have the time to do what they didn't do on the outside,” said Pam Humphrey, the Correction Department's superintendent of schools. “Each level they attain provides them with a lot more motivation to continue.”

A higher percentage of Oklahoma prisoners received their GEDs — the equivalent of a high school diploma — than students who are not imprisoned, according to figures provided by the state Education Department.

Approximately 3,882 inmates statewide attended classes in the 2012-13 school year. Of that number, 84 percent — 1,019 out of 1,212 — received their credentials.

“There are very few jobs now that don't require a certificate of high school completion or a high school diploma,” said Ann Allen, executive director of adult and community education for Oklahoma City Public Schools. “It's critical for individuals to be prepared for the workforce once they're released.”

By comparison, 12,642 students attended non-correctional GED programs offered at 31 Adult Learning Centers across Oklahoma. Of that number, 69 percent — 2,331 out of 3,380 — earned credentials.

Pam Blundell, executive director of lifelong learning for the Education Department, said the numbers are misleading. A lower percentage of adult learners completed GED programs than those behind bars because about 9,000 of the 12,642 students enrolled were not functioning at a grade level required to take the GED tests, Blundell said.

“We serve a lot of people that are at low literacy levels,” she said. “We serve people who could possibly be non-readers and we have to teach them how to read.”

Costs to the state

The state Board of Education voted in September to allocate about $5 million in state and federal funds for adult education and literacy, including $444,701 in federal money for corrections. The Corrections Department received $361,662. The remaining $82,039 will fund classes in county jails or other local correctional programs.

“The research does show that receiving adult education and a GED while incarcerated reduces the recidivism rates and allows those individuals to re-enter the public as taxpaying citizens in a way that benefits not only the individual but the community as a whole,” Kerri White, assistant superintendent for educator effectiveness with the Education Department, told board members before they approved the funding.



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