Delaware Gov. Carney points to prison education programs as key to reducing recidivism

Governor John Carney got a first-hand look at education efforts designed to help those incarcerated get a better chance at success upon release.

Governor John Carney speaking at the Baylor Women Correctional Institution. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

Governor John Carney speaking at the Baylor Women Correctional Institution. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

About 750 people incarcerated in Delaware prisons are taking part in an education program offering both academic and vocational training from the state Department of Education.

Gov. John Carney got a first-hand look at the effort to help those incarcerated in a visit Wednesday to Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution.

Statewide, prisons partner with DOE through Groves Adult Highschool, Adult Basic Education/GED Preparation, vocational programs, and life skills.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education established the Second Chance Pell Grant Program, which Delaware Technical Community College received permission to offer in 2020.

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Baylor started offering its Human Services Associates Degree through the Second Chance Program last August. Its goal is to expand educational opportunities for incarcerated students, improve their success when leaving prison, and reduce recidivism.

Incarcerated people learning from the Prison education programs. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

Carney relayed comments from some students following his tour of the education space at Baylor. “I came to this program thinking that I can’t do it, and now I’m at a juncture in the program where I know that I can do it,” Carney said he was told. He said this kind of program is “crucial for incarcerated individuals as they transition out of incarceration and back into the community.”

A lot of money is spent on corrections in the state of Delaware, Carney said, but not enough on helping men and women return to the community. “What we saw today, what I saw today was something that really works,” he said. “We know that we need to do a better job, and I’m confident that we will.”

In 2018, Carney signed an executive order creating a reentry commission to improve outcomes for residents returning from serving prison sentences. Department of Corrections Commissioner Monroe Hudson said that commission has helped create a strong system that maximizes the chance for individuals being released from DOC released

The executive order “committed all state government [agencies] to be invested in building a framework to improve reentry success,” Hudson said. “He directed the Department of Corrections to play a central role in making this happen.”

“We know that incarcerated people who participate in education programs like the one we saw today have much lower odds in terms of returning to prison,” said Mark Holodick, secretary of the state Department of Education. He pointed to the positive experience of Irene Hollis, who has been incarcerated at Baylor since 2012.

“I’m here to talk about education,” Hollis said as she took the podium.

“I want to give back to my community and the Second Chance program has given me that opportunity. I have found my purpose in life,” Hollis said as she started to cry. “I finally know I can do better and be better. If I can realize my potential, others can too.”

Hollis hopes to earn her Associate Degree in Human Services before she’s released, and then start a career in counseling or psychology.

Hollis said there are many like her who always study together and help each other to find a better way. She said education may be the key to reducing recidivism rates.

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