Commissioners Award Contract For GED Program At Lackawanna County Prison
MOSCOW — About 80 Lackawanna County Prison inmates per year soon will have access to a program allowing them to earn high school equivalency diplomas while behind bars, the first such program offered at the jail since 2012.
Gathered Thursday for a night meeting at the North Pocono Public Library, Lackawanna County commissioners voted 2-1 to award a non-taxpayer-funded contract for GED provider services to the Outreach Center for Community Resources of Scranton. The organization recently changed its name from the Employment Opportunity Training Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania and ran a prior GED program at the prison.
Commissioner Laureen Cummings voted no, noting the majority of inmates spend less than a month at the jail, which is not long enough to complete the GED courses. Still, Cummings said she may change her mind on the matter after seeing the program in action and gauging its success.
No taxpayer funds
The GED program, which includes both prep courses and testing, will cost about $155,883 per year plus about $11,280 in one-time startup costs. Officials will use funds from the inmate canteen account, not taxpayer dollars, to finance it.
Commissioners’ approval comes after the county Prison Board in July recommended Outreach for the contract, with several members arguing that a GED program will reduce recidivism and make inmates more employable when they get out of jail. Some noted Outreach’s success running a prior GED program there.According to the proposal Outreach submitted last month
, a 2010 survey of data from more than 1,800 Lackawanna County Prison inmates found that 38 percent did not possess a high school diploma or GED certificate, and 76 percent were unemployed prior to being incarcerated. Moreover, a 2005 Outreach-commissioned study found the reincarceration rate was 27 percent lower for former inmates who participated in the organization’s educational programming than for those who did not, Outreach wrote in its proposal.
The proposal was one of two the county received, the other coming from Scranton-based Penn Foster. Warden Tim Betti said last month he was intrigued by Penn Foster’s proposal — which would offer online courses for inmates to earn their high school diplomas, as opposed to GED diplomas — but argued it would be difficult to implement given inmates’ limited access to the internet and different levels of education, among other logistical issues.
Responding to Cummings’ concerns Thursday, Betti said part of the prison’s job will be to identify inmates serving sentences long enough to complete the program.
Both Commissioners Jerry Notarianni and Patrick O’Malley described the GED program’s return as a positive for the prison.
“I’ve seen this program work in the past,” O’Malley said, arguing that earning a GED can be a major accomplishment for an inmate and help them find work after being released. “It’s a good opportunity.”
It’s unclear exactly when the GED courses will begin at the jail, but, as of July, the prison still planned to load GED-prep materials and resources onto 450 correctional-grade tablet computers that the county received free as part of a 2017 telecommunications contract with Virginia-based Global Tel-Link Corp. GTL was in the process of equipping the jail to handle the various functions of the tablets last month.
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