press release - KVCC Somerset Jail partnership

Public Relations | Press Releases


Release date 03-18-14


KVCC partners with Somerset County Jail to offer college courses to inmates


FAIRFIELD, ME – Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) and the Somerset County Jail in Madison have recently completed a successful pilot project to offer college courses to inmates at the jail.

The program brought online courses to 14 inmates during the fall semester of 2014, and its success has prompted talks between the two partners about continued course offerings including traditional classes at the jail itself in the summer or fall of 2015.

The combined Grade Point Average (GPA) of the inmates who completed the program was a very respectable 3.52.

“We were very pleased with that result,” said Val Landry, program coordinator for KV Academy – a collaborative effort between KVCC and area adult education sites to help adult students prepare for and transition to college. “There were many challenges to overcome, but overall it worked out very well.”

Inmates at the jail face many restrictions communicating with the outside world, accessing finances, and interacting with students who are not incarcerated. Because of that, the obstacles to obtaining high school transcripts and completing the financial aid process for college were significant, Landry said.

In spite of the challenges, KVCC was able to enroll inmates in three online courses: Software Applications I, College Composition, and Intro to Psychology.

Some inmates had already taken college courses prior to enrolling in the pilot program at the jail. Some who completed the program chose to enroll in specific degree programs at KVCC including Mental Health, Business, and Liberal Studies.

“A lot of them were very focused on what they want to do with their lives once they leave there,” Landry said.

The pilot program got its start thanks to Susan Knight, who works for MSAD 54 Adult and Community Education offering courses to inmates at the jail. Knight approached Landry in the summer of 2014 with the idea of offering college courses at the jail. Landry initiated discussions between the jail and KVCC and the program was launched in late September.

Knight said it took a team effort to get the program off the ground in such a short time; the information technology department at the jail worked hard to get 10 new computers configured and connected to KVCC’s Blackboard system, while faculty and staff at KVCC and at the College Store put in extra hours to see that the students were admitted and equipped for the semester.

“The fall 2014 semester was for me, kind of a dream come true,” Knight said. “I have been involved in corrections education since 2005, working in both Franklin and Somerset County jails. Offering college-level courses has been discussed and the need has certainly been there, but there are multiple issues to address.”

One of those issues is that by the time an inmate is ready to enroll in a class, they are often done with their sentence and back in the community. Even this can provide benefits however, simply by starting a conversation about what education can do and what resources are available to access it, and clearing some of the initial paperwork hurdles, Knight said.

“I believe that education, at any level, is an essential component of a comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of incarcerated individuals and fulfilling the mission of the facility,” Knight said. “I know the administration here at the jail, along with the Skowhegan Adult and Community Education program and KVCC, are all committed to bringing more educational opportunities into the jail.”

Many inmates sent thank-you notes praising the program after it ended. Although their names are confidential, their comments included:

“I want you to know that I took three courses…and in all three courses I received a 4.0 GPA. I am inspired and will continue to work hard to ensure that I complete my studies. Thank you again for everything you did for me, and God bless.”

“Thank you so much for all your help and for believing in and giving us at Somerset County Jail the opportunity to take these classes. It feels great to know that I can do something with myself after this stage in my life and that I am not defined by my past mistakes.”

“I am more than grateful to have been able to take part in this. I do hope KVCC and SCJ can work through whatever obstacles there are to continuing this program as it is a wonderful opportunity that could be very effective in helping someone begin to change their path in life. Sometimes all someone needs is that one opportunity.”

The new computer lab at the jail is now being eyed as a possible site for traditional classes, taking the program beyond the possibilities offered by strictly online courses.

About 25 inmates the jail have already expressed interest in taking KVCC courses in a future semester, and discussions are now underway to decide when and how to offer another program. KVCC hopes to continue this partnership with the jail. The lessons learned from the pilot program will propel the partnership forward with classes being offered in the future.

KVCC is one of seven community colleges in Maine that operate under the authority of the Maine Community College System Board of Trustees. KVCC is a public, non-profit, post-secondary institution supported in part by State legislative appropriations and federal funds.

The College offers more than 35 programs of study ranging from two-year associate degrees to certificates, as well as a comprehensive schedule of continuing education courses and business and industry outreach programs.

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