The Unity in Community: Fostering Academic Success among Diverse Communities of Male Offenders in Correctional Institutions

Article excerpt


Two post-secondary correctional educators discuss how they have enhanced the rehabilitation of a diverse population of adult male offenders, including whites, African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, by incorporating diversity initiatives into their instruction and curricula at two correctional facilities in Northwest Indiana. One way is to form moral communities, like those prescribed by Clifford Edwards, by fostering collaboration through teamwork and by providing opportunities for offender students to contribute to their academic community as, for example, academic tutors and computer lab monitors. Another way is to hold offender students to high learning outcomes and to facilitate their learning by treating them respectfully and fairly and by teaching them how to interact successfully and democratically in an often hostile, yet culturally diversified, environment/community. Finally, a liberal arts curriculum enhances the development of critical thinking skills and values for the global workplace.

"They who open a school door close a prison."

-Victor Hugo

Most books and articles on multicultural education center on the traditional college or university setting. As post-secondary correctional educators, we bring attention to an often neglected or overlooked setting-the college classroom in correctional facilities. Studies have long shown the benefits of post-secondary education in rehabilitating offenders and reducing recidivism (Jenkins, Steurer, & Pendry, 1995; McCollum, 1994; Taylor, 1992). We have enhanced that rehabilitation by incorporating diversity concerns into our instruction and curricula at two correctional facilities in Northwest Indiana: Westville Correctional Facility (WCF), a medium- to maximum-security prison, and Lakeside Correctional Facility (LCF), a minimum-security prison. Maxilyn Voss (MV), who holds a specialist degree in education administration from Ball State University, served as the coordinator of the Purdue University North Central Post-Secondary Correctional Education Program at the Lakeside Correctional Facility in Michigan City, Indiana from August 2000 to January 2002 and as a part-time instructor taught business and technical writing at the Westville Correctional Facility in Westville, Indiana. Dr. Jane E. Rose (JER), associate professor of English at Purdue University North Central, has taught composition at both facilities and courses in American literature at the Westville Correctional Facility. In our essay, we highlight components of the PUNC Post-Secondary Correctional Educational Program and discuss our roles and strategies in creating community and unity among diverse groups of male offenders.

Purdue University North Central Post-Secondary Correctional Education Program

Purdue University North Central (PUNC), a regional commuter campus in Northwest Indiana, within the Purdue University system, offers a unique opportunity to two correctional facilities within the Indiana Department of Correction. Since its implementation in 1985, a diverse population of male felons, convicted of various violent and nonviolent crimes and ranging from 18 to 60 years in age, have enrolled in courses leading to associate's degrees in Business or Organizational Leadership and Supervision and bachelor's degrees in either Business or Liberal Studies. The emphasis for the first semesters in the program is to complete a 27-credit-hour certificate, providing credentials for offenders who are released before completing a formal degree program. It creates a more marketable student upon release and also provides an intermediate goal for students participating in the program for longer periods of time. Purdue University admissions and academic standards are enforced, and admission requirements (all candidates must have acquired GED proficiency or a high school diploma), learning tools (textbooks, auxiliary materials, computers, etc.), and course outlines are identical to those used at the PUNC campus. …