After dipping to just five students in 2015, the number in the high school education program for inmates at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre on Wilkinson Road is now at 45.
This year alone five inmates have acquired their Dogwood diploma as high school graduates, said volunteer tutor Steve Newton.
“We have one guy on his last credit and another on his final two credits, plus two more eyeing a finish by February, and they wish to register at Camosun College following their release,” Newton said.
What happens is the inmates return to the community without a high school degree.
“Without a formal education, no one wants to give them an opportunity,’ Newton said. “This gives them a formal education.”
The retired teacher is a board member of the Victoria Read Society and has been instrumental in rebuilding the program. The Read Society took over earlier this year after the Victoria School District 61 backed out (SD61 had taken it over from Saanich School District 63).
Cowichan School District 79 then came on in support, supplying curriculum materials, performing the marking, granting credits, performing credit checks, and granting the diplomas.
And ironically, Cowichan is the only school district in the immediate area still using a pen and paper curriculum, which is exactly what the Wilkinson jail program needs.
“We’re hopeful we can move this forward,” Newton said. “Those inmates who’ve started in the program begin to realize this is something they need in order to keep from coming back, a cycle that repeats itself.”
There are now 20 volunteers working to teach inmates through the Read Society. Some are involved in direct tutoring, such as a one-on-one context, and about six are teachers delivering the in-school component of the program.
The curriculum is free to the inmates who run into a road block once they earn their Dogwood diploma. In some cases Newton has set up a personalized curriculum to educate the inmates, but enrolling in college within the prison is still a ways off, though the U.S. has successfully created such a program.
The challenge is the inmates aren’t allowed access to the Internet.
Even the school program is one hour of instruction per week. The rest is the students working on it in their cell blocks.
“With no opportunity to study online it’s fortuitous Cowichan School District came along.“ Newton said. “We’d like to expand to two hours a week of instruction. If that happens, we’ll need more volunteers.”
This year the school program ran throughout the summer and will run throughout the Christmas season.
“It gives them something to work for, it’s the introduction of a sense of forward movement and improvement for them,” Newton said.