Inmates of the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre (VIRCC) in Saanich will have opportunities to upgrade their literacy and numeracy skills in preparation for re-entry into the job market thanks to a project being organized by the Victoria READ Society in collaboration with officials of the VIRCC and Cowichan Valley School District #79.
“The inability to read and write well may not be a direct cause of criminal behaviour, but it is clear from the research that low literacy and crime are related,” says READ Executive Director Trisha Chestnutt.
“Too often, impoverished adults do not have the literacy skills to get into job training programs.”
READ Society Director and program teacher, Steve Newton, notes that “education can better prepare these men for re-entry into the community as capable and employable citizens.
“Statistics Canada research indicates that for every dollar spent on this kind of literacy programming there is nearly a 250 per cent return on investment.”
For this reason, READ began to revitalize this volunteer-based program in January with input and support from Camosun College, DeCoda Literacy Solutions and a range of other active community leaders.
Literacy Victoria had pioneered the program but had to discontinue their operations last August.
Marna Johns, VIRCC’s Deputy Warden of Programs, thanked the READ Society for the partnership.
“Building literacy skills can be a life-changing experience for inmates, giving them the ability to further their education and return to the community armed with more confidence and skills that will help them gain employment and make a life after release,” Johns says.
“We’d all like to pass along our appreciation to the READ Society’s dedicated volunteers who are truly making a difference at our correctional centre.”
Professionals from READ, School District 79, VIRCC staff, volunteers and students are currently working out the details of curriculum, instruction, resources, necessary training of volunteer instructors, etc.
The Centre for Indigenous Education and Community Connections is also being consulted to identify culturally appropriate programming that might be offered to First Nations inmates.
However, “what is essential right now is that we get tutors (men and women) trained and into the correctional centre delivering courses that the inmates find useful as they plan their futures,” Newton says.
People interested in volunteering at VIRCC are encouraged to apply.
“We are happy to answer questions from potential volunteers regarding the education credentials and security clearances involved,” says Matthew Burke, READ’s VIRCC Volunteer Coordinator.
“Generally, a tutor will be needed for two hours per week for the school term. Since the collaboration with READ began, the number of tutoring staff has doubled and we are able to support more inmates than ever before.”
All VIRCC tutors are first screened by READ’s Executive Director and Volunteer Program Coordinator, and vetted by the VIRCC administration. Criminal and vulnerable population record checks are required.
Individuals who possess some content knowledge in English and/or mathematics and have a strong desire to contribute to the betterment of others are invited to apply. While a teaching background is not mandatory, it will prove helpful. Individuals who have varied life experiences and are willing to give their time are welcome to apply.
The Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre on Wilkinson Road is a maximum security correctional centre for inmates of all levels of risk, operated by BC Corrections.