The U.S. jail and prison systems house society's most educationally and socially disadvantaged adults.1 Compared to the general population, the inmate population is more likely to include high school dropouts, adults with learning disabilities, and adults with low literacy skills.2 Inmates in Oregon are no different. Seventy-nine percent lack a high school diploma, and 32 percent read at or below the ninth-grade level. Almost 90 percent function at the lowest levels in math skills. Many offenders also struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, as well as cognitive skills deficiencies.
Although federal and state funding supports correctional education, many offenders still re-enter their community without the skills they need to succeed in the workforce and in society. Faced with few employment options and other personal challenges, the majority of offenders return to a life of crime. The statistics are startling; nearly two-thirds of federal and state inmates released on parole are rearrested within three years of leaving prison and almost half are re-incarcerated.3 Studies suggest, however, that education programs can provide inmates with the skills they need to succeed and reduce the probability that they will commit future crimes.4 Two DCJ studies have confirmed that the Londer Center's educational program has had an impact on reducing recidivism and/or helping offenders adjust to positive community roles.5 The most recent study examined the arrest patterns of 343 offenders who participated in courses at the Londer Center between June 1995 and February 2001, comparing their arrest rate for the two years before and the two years after they enrolled at Londer. The study found that their arrest rate declined by 58 percent during the two years after they attended the Londer Center. While this decline in arrests cannot be solely attributed to the Londer Center, there is little doubt that the Londer experience had a positive effect on the offenders.
The Londer Center, therefore, plays a critical role within DCJ in its work with offenders on community supervision (parole or probation). It is part of a DCJ initiative, "What Works," based on principles and practices identified as effective by a Congressionally mandated evaluation of state and local crime prevention programs. For more information on the implementation of "What Works" in Multnomah County, see: http://www.co.multnomah.or.us/dcj/acjwhatworks.shtml.
Portland Community College (PCC) provides adult education services to the community, but the Londer Center focuses solely on adults with criminal histories. For that reason, it is better equipped to handle the complex needs of offenders on parole or probation, who typically do not succeed in a traditional community college setting. Of the nearly 600 offenders served at the Londer Center during fiscal year 2003, more than half (56 percent) read at or below an eighth-grade level and 70 percent were assessed to be at medium or high risk for continuing criminal activity.
"We understand the population," says Joanne Fuller, the director of DCJ. "Mainstream programs can be a recipe for failure. People with criminal histories are generally not accepted socially and in education. There is often no system for accommodating developmental disabilities or learning disabilities." DCJ has found that the best way to meet the needs of this population is through the tailored educational program at the Londer Center, which offers such crucial support as extended hours, a welcoming environment, cognitive restructuring courses, and a basic understanding of developmental and learning disabilities. As Carl Goodman, a DCJ program administrator, noted, "The Londer Center has brought compassion to DCJ and corrections."
"Londer is the best thing that ever happened to clients in the criminal justice system."—Matt Svymbersky, Clinical Supervisor, Men's Residential Treatment Program, Volunteers of America.
Probation and parole officers (POs), as well as drug treatment counselors, see the educational services available at the Londer Center as an important component of offenders' transition plans—a resource for helping them successfully reintegrate into the community. They have found that Londer Center helps improve their clients' communication skills and confidence. According to counselor Edie Wooldridge, "Some clients say, 'I can't do this [participate in a counseling group] because I can't read and write.' So we hook them up with Londer and realize this guy can read and write. He's doing it at a third-grade level, but he has the basics. He was just always told that he can't." She adds, "These people experience stigma in all areas. They're told they can't change, that they're stupid, that they're dangerous. The GED removes the stigma."
Fleming McCarville, a PO who works primarily in the Domestic Violence Unit, agrees: "The GED can be a resource that gets people over the first hump." Even filling out a job application can be very intimidating to those with low literacy skills. The Londer Center helps them learn to read and write so they can improve their employment opportunities and, in turn, their lives.
OPENING DOORS FOR OFFENDERS
Retired parole officer Kelly Carrol told of a female offender who found her way, by word of mouth, to the Londer Center. Carrol discovered that she had fled from the California correctional system. She had been progressing well at Londer, so when he contacted officials in California, he convinced them to let DCJ staff work with her in Portland. The client graduated from the Londer Center and earned scholarships, first at Mt. Hood Community College and then at Portland State University. She was an honors student at both institutions and eventually ran a transitional program for offenders. Carrol says, "People get a GED and start to think, 'Guess I'm not as stupid as I thought I was.'"
1Jails and prisons are part of a larger corrections system that includes probation and parole. Offenders who are awaiting trial or serving sentences of a year or less are typically housed in jails. Those who are serving longer sentences are housed in prisons. Offenders are placed on probation when a judge determines that the offender would benefit from being supervised outside of prison by corrections staff, rather than being sentenced to a correctional facility. Parole can be mandatory after inmates have served a predetermined amount of their sentence or can be awarded by state-appointed parole boards to inmates who behave well in prison and who are believed to pose a low public-safety risk. (back to text)
2J. Travis, A. Solomon, and M. Waul. "From Prison to Home: The Dimensions and Consequences of Prisoner Reentry." Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, June 2001. (back to text)
3Beck. "State and Federal Prisoners Returning to the Community: Findings from the Bureau of Justice Statistics." Paper presented at the First Reentry Courts Initiative Cluster Meeting, Washington, DC, April 13, 2000. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/sfprc.pdf. (back to text)
4S. Steurer, L. Smith, and A. Tracy. "Three State Recidivism Study." Prepared for the Office of Correctional Education, U.S. Department of Education. Lanham, MD: Correctional Education Association, September 30, 2001. http://www.ceanational.org/documents/3StateFinal.pdf. (back to text)
5Finnigan, M. "Outcome Evaluation Report: Multnomah County Corrections Literacy Program for Adult Offenders." Multnomah County, OR: Department of Community Justice, 1994. Rhyne, C. "Londer Learning Center participant descriptions and re-arrest rates." Multnomah County, OR: Department of Community Justice, 2001. (back to text)