KANKAKEE — After a five-year hiatus because of state funding cuts, classes will soon be back in session for inmates at the Kankakee County jail.
The final touches are being put on the General Educational Development program within the county jail for inmates seeking to earn a high school diploma.
The program, which had been a mainstay within the county detention system for many years, became a victim of state budget cuts in 2014 and has not been offered here since.
That situation, thanks to a $64,169 Illinois Community College Board grant — about the cost of housing two inmates for a year — is about to change.
High cost of housing
According to studies, the recidivism rate is lower for inmates who earned a GED while in custody (32 percent) than for those who didn’t (37 percent).
With the average cost of housing an inmate for a year coming in at an estimated $30,000, keeping people out of jail can result in significant savings.
When the grant request was submitted in late 2019, the jail had 118 inmates eligible for the GED program. Data from the sheriff’s department noted that about half of 270 local prisoners — meaning those “remanded” into jail custody — do not have a high school diploma.
KCC is one of nine community colleges to receive funding.
While the date of the relaunch and the site location — both still to be finalized — the program coordinated through Kankakee Community College and the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Department is about to return.
The program is open to Kankakee County residents serving a sentence within the jail. The program is limited to 50 inmates and class sizes are no larger than 12 students per session, said Kari Nugent, KCC spokeswoman.
The online program provides inmate students with an on-site laptop as the sessions will be taught by a teacher at the KCC campus.
‘WIN-WIN FOR EVERYONE’
“This a rebirth of the program, and it’s a great thing,” Sheriff Mike Downey said. “If people can come out of the Jerome Combs Detention Center better than they came in, we are all better off. This can be a win-win for everyone.”
The program will include learning support and tutoring in reading, math, life skills, career exploration and job searches. Students from KCC’s law enforcement program will have the opportunity to be tutors.
Special attention is needed, of course, to have the correct inmate mix to avoid conflicts. Men and women inmates are not allowed to attend the same class session.
Downey noted the class is a privilege, meaning inappropriate behavior will cost the student the opportunity to participate.
Downey said behavior is not expected to be a big issue because inmates are attempting to improve their situation for when they are released, so capitalizing on this program will be important to them.
“We all know that plain old incarceration doesn’t work” in preparing inmates to return to the community, Downey noted. “We have to help them with their lives. You have to have at least a high school diploma to succeed in this world.”
Jose da Silva, KCC’s vice president for student affairs, who is heading the program, said the hope is that upon release from jail, the person will continue to gain education at KCC.
The ultimate goal, of course, he said, is to prepare these students for better employment opportunities.
“The goal is to assist students who lack a high school credential in earning such credentials, while simultaneously supporting them through their transition back into society,” de Silva said.