FCI Petersburg’s Education Department Problems and Innovative Solutions

FCI Petersburg’s Education Department Problems and Innovative Solutions

Today, I have something not all that pleasant to share with you. Several weeks ago, I reported that the FCI-Petersburg Education Department had reduced its open house hours. This means that the Education Department will now be closed all day on Sundays (which was already the case) and Friday nights after 3:30 p.m. (which is new).

While not massive on its face, this additional closure becomes imposing when considering the programming that would have occurred in the Education Department from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday nights. Specifically, two Adult Continuing Education classes would have taught around 35 students, and the Friday night GED Fast-Track program would have taught another 25 students. The new Friday night closure of the Education Department now means that the two Adult Continuing Education classes will be canceled, and the GED Fast-Track program will be reduced to 5 days a week.

While I’m not a fan of this newfound reduction in operational hours, I am a fan of the two solutions implemented here at FCI-Petersburg. In a very positive move, the administration of FCI-Petersburg will be utilizing space in the Recreation Department for re-entry materials, reference books, and leisure reading books. While this has yet to be implemented, I look forward to seeing this new extended library location open. I’m crossing my fingers that the Recreation Department will expand the hours of this extended library location to seven days a week. This way, barriers to learning will be removed.

Another very positive educational move by the administration of FCI-Petersburg is the pilot Self-Paced Adult Continuing Education program. I know of this pilot program because I’m one of its testers. The way the program works is as follows:

The student signs up in a registration book, which is available in the regular library in the Education Department. In this sign-up book, the student can see the available courses and a description of each course, how many people are already on the waiting list for each particular course, and the rules and regulations of the program. Once the student signs up, they are placed on call-out (an appointment system in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.) When their name reaches the top of the waiting list for the particular course, they are notified (called out). This call-out is for them to go to the Education Department to take a proctored pre-test for the specific course.

After the student takes the pre-test, they are allowed to go to the Education Department whenever it is open and watch videos that form the foundation of the course. The only limitation of the program is that there are only two TVs available for the program. So, if the TVs are already in use, the student must wait until one becomes vacant to participate. Furthermore, there is no TV sign-up option yet. This could potentially be a program drawback.

After watching 6 to 8 hours of video and turning in each lesson’s assignment, the student requests to be placed on call-out to take the proctored post-test. If the student passes the post-test, the student is awarded a Certificate of Completion. The programming credit is entered by educational staff on the student’s central file via SENTRY, the BOP’s computer management system.

While I’m not pleased that the Education Department of FCI-Petersburg is now closed on Friday nights or the existing Sunday closure, I am glad that the staff here are thinking and acting proactively. This initiative shows that they are open and willing to provide educational opportunities to the incarcerated population as long as there is a viable way that can be somewhat self-supporting and economically feasible.

The self-supporting aspect of the Self-Paced Adult Continuing Education program is the part to focus on. Since it is self-supporting, it requires minimal staff involvement and minimal resources. Plus, it is always available to the prison population, with no instructor needed and minimal staff involvement. Hence, it is an educational program with the potential to assist hundreds of incarcerated students in a particular prison yearly.