Genesee Recognizes Prison's Pledge to College Tech Prep Legal Academy

For a couple dozen students in the College Tech Prep Legal Careers Academy, there was nothing punitive about "doing time" at the Attica Correctional Facility. In fact, it may turn out to be a positive step toward rewarding careers in the law enforcement field.

Leaders of the College Tech Prep at Genesee Community College were so impressed with prison officials' commitment to the academy that they nominated the facility for a "Business of the Year" award. Coordinators at the state level agreed with Genesee and recognized Attica Correctional as one of the top business partners at the annual Tech Prep State Conference at Saratoga Springs.

"We felt Attica Correctional should be the award-winner for going above and beyond our expectations," said Debbie Dunlevy, College Tech Prep Genesee Region Consortium director. "Students have been able to tour inside the facility … more than just talk to the inmates. Additionally, they are granted greater access because Attica officials know these students are going into some sort of legal field and they have a high level of maturity."

Indeed, participants in the 12th grade program -- offered jointly through Genesee Region College Tech Prep, Genesee Community College and Genesee Valley BOCES -- are outstanding students. To qualify for the academy, students must have an 80 or above average and submit three letters of recommendation.

Classes meet for a half-day Monday through Friday at the old City Hall under the tutelage of Karen Wicka and in Geneseo under the teaching of Doug Brooks. Both Wicka and Brooks are instructors employed by BOCES.

More than 20 schools in the GLOW (Genesee-Livingston-Orleans-Wyoming) Region and numerous businesses are involved in College Tech Prep. In its second year, the program allows students to explore multidisciplinary legal professions and current research through on-site observations at a variety of law enforcement/legal facilities. Professions considered include corrections officer, detective, bailiff, investigator, court clerk, law enforcement officer, probation officer, paralegal, judge, lawyer and social worker.

The administrative staff at Attica Correctional Facility has provided groundbreaking support to the academy over the past two years, Wicka said.

"The students really get an in-depth look at the facility," she said. "Attica is the first prison in the country, at least in the state, that does this. Nobody has heard of this type of cooperation."

James Conway, prison superintendent, humbly accepted the award at the conference on behalf of his staff "who do all the work."

"I know I've received positive comments from faculty at the college but it's the three-person team that coordinates student tours and orientation of services here that deserves the credit," he said. Those three people are corrections officer Lt. Thomas Dixon (who acts as the liaison to the Legal Careers Academy), counselor James Donohue and corrections officer William Stranahan.

Wicka explained that the 12 students in each class embark on a four-pronged approach set up by the Attica team:

A tour of the facility;

Handling an actual in-house crime as assigned by Dixon, with access to paperwork, arraignment and pre-trial hearing dates, with the goal of submitting their own recommendations;

Hearing guest speakers such as Shanahan, who talks about employment opportunities and the history of the prison, and Conway, who recounts actual escape attempts and shows a video of an escape attempt;

Job shadowing for a day with Donohue, participating in inmate intake meetings and group counseling sessions.

Megan Allen, a senior at Elba Central School, said she realized the importance of the opportunity to interact with staff and inmates at the correctional facility.

"We got to see some things that others won't ever be able to do," said Allen, who "job shadowed" with Donohue and talked with prison social workers. "They told us our class is kind of special because we were able to go into prison cells and see how the prisoners live."

Allen holds a 90 average in the academy and is taking four college courses through Genesee's Accelerated College Enrollment (ACE) program. She said her desire to become a corrections officer was strengthened by the fact that there are advancement opportunities through the state Department of Corrections.

"I learned that you can advance to a corrections counselor after two years," she said. "That is my eventual goal."

Editor's note: A photograph of officials accepting the "Business of the Year" award in Saratoga Springs is available at the following Internet address:

Photo Caption: Attica Correctional Facility received a "Business of the Year" award recently at the Tech Prep State Conference in Saratoga Springs for its partnership with the College Tech Prep Genesee Region Consortium. From left are Debbie Dunlevy, College Tech Prep director at Genesee Community College; James Conway, prison superintendent; James Donohue, prison counselor, and Joan Puccio, College Tech Prep program assistant.