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Prison GED Program’s First Class Offered Exclusively To Male Inmates, Class For Females To Follow

December 31, 2018

After urging officials for months to restore a GED program at Lackawanna County Prison, some of the area’s most vocal inmate-rights advocates were upset to learn that the program’s first class contains no females. Commissioners voted 2-1 in August, with Commissioner Laureen Cummings voting no, to award a non-taxpayer-funded contract for GED provider services to the Outreach Center for Community Resources of Scranton. The GED program, which includes both prep courses and testing for inmates trying to earn a high school equivalency diploma, costs almost $156,000 annually and is financed with inmate canteen account funds. Canteen funds come from commissary sales at the jail. The program’s inaugural class, which started in the fall, is made up exclusively of male inmates. Plans are for the next class to be comprised solely of female inmates, but that didn’t stop some from crying foul. “I’m really concerned about what appears to be gender discrimination,” said inmate advocate Stephanie Bressler, Ph.D., who long pushed for the GED program’s return. “The women want, they need and, as we know, they are helping to pay for this program out of canteen funds.” Efforts to reach Outreach officials were unsuccessful, but Warden Tim Betti rejected the notion that separating the sexes amounts to discrimination. Describing the initial classes as a “dry run,” Betti said much of the prison’s current staff didn’t work there when prior GED programs were offered. Moving inmates from one area of the jail to another can create logistical issues and officials decided to keep males and females separated while staff work through any program-related issues that could arise early on, he said. “You’ve got to crawl before you can walk or run,” Betti said. One of the program’s objectives is to offer GED preparation and testing to approximately 80 inmates per year. Roughly 20 male inmates signed up for the initial class, though some have left the program. Opening the first class exclusively to males likely means some female inmates missed an opportunity to earn their high school equivalency diplomas while incarcerated. Some male inmates will likely miss a similar opportunity when the next class is offered exclusively to females. Still, Betti believes the program will ultimately afford inmates of both sexes the opportunity to better themselves while behind bars. “I wanted this (program),” he said. “This is a positive. This is a good thing.” Betti said officials may consider offering coed GED classes in the future, but did not commit to doing so. Contact the writer: jhorvath@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9141;@jhorvathTT

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