Genesee Community College Leads Groundbreaking County Jails Initiative

Genesee Community College is one of thirteen national recipients, and the only college, to receive a US Department of Education Life Skills for State and Local Prisoners grant. The College hopes to develop a model that can be used to further rural jail postsecondary education transition efforts, both in Western New York and throughout the nation.

The Rural Jail Postsecondary Transition (RJPT) program attempts to meet the needs of men and women incarcerated in Western New York rural county jails by providing access to postsecondary education. The program offers both developmental “college readiness” assistance and up to fifteen college credits, for inmates who meet selection criteria developed by the College. Inmate eligibility is based on conviction status, ability to pay, prior academic success, and motivation, among other factors. Jail officials have input into candidates for potential student status as well.

“This is the first program of its kind,” said Raymond Walker, the program’s director and former Assistant Principal for Batavia High School. “Most inmate education programs are life skills-oriented, giving assistance with alcohol and drug rehabilitation. There is no program like this one, which picks up where a GED leaves off, to prepare an individual for a career or further college education.” Students must have completed a GED or hold a high school diploma to be eligible, Walker added.

Genesee Community College was awarded this grant from more than 100 applications nationwide, in part because of its past experience with inmate education. The College had a program in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s that offered educational opportunities to inmates of state prisons, but the program was discontinued in 1994 after eligibility for funding was cut. The new program focuses only on five rural jails in Genesee, Orleans, Livingston, Wyoming, and Allegany counties. According to Walker, “No funds go to inmates… just for services to help them transition to productive citizen status after they get out”

“The RJPT program will give inmates the opportunity to use their incarcerated time effectively,” said Renee’ Wilmoth, Jail Liaison. “We’ve surveyed the jails in five Western NY counties and there is a tremendous amount of interest in this program.”

Many inmates will need developmental, college preparation courses, such as English, Math, Reading, Career/Education Planning, and College Survival Skills. Through Genesee’s strong distance learning background, these courses are being adapted for remote jail locations. Although inmates do not have Internet access, the courses will be patterned after similar classes using recycled textbooks, tutorials via CD/ROM & DVD, supervised on-site testing, and exchanging coursework via the jail liaison.

“A person with an education has a statistically much better chance of not returning to jail,” said Bob Knipe, Dean of Learning Technologies at the College. “Students who complete this program will be ready for college level courses, or for career training in another setting.”

Grant funding is scheduled through 2007 and further “if we stay on top of our goals and develop useful, exportable courses and systems.” Knipe says that the budget includes hiring a second jail liaison, can pay faculty for their development and instruction time, some materials, and pay for the administration provided by Walker and Wilmoth. The goal is to fine-tune the program enough to have an excellent working model for other organizations to follow in the future.

“Keeping someone in jail is a lot more expensive than transitioning him or her to college, or skills training, when they’re released.” Knipe said. “It’s just sensible long-term economic investment.”

For more information about the Rural Jail Postsecondary Transition program, contact Raymond Walker, Director, at (585) 343-0055 x6432.

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Editor’s Note: A photograph of Raymond Walker (left), Director of the Rural Jail Postsecondary Transition program, and Renee’ Wilmoth, Jail Liaison is available at the following Internet address: