GED Teacher Shortage for Incarcerated Students is a Social Crime

GED Teacher Shortage for Incarcerated Students is a Social Crime

By Dianne Walker

Students that earn their General Education Development diplomas while incarcerated have a lower rate of reoffending because they check out of their cell with a tool that ensures economic productivity. Inmates that return to society with a diploma in hand are more likely to be hired even with a criminal record history.

Earning a GED while incarcerated at Kent County, Grand Rapids MI is a viable option for rehabilitating inmates in a short amount of time because their stay is limited.  

A GED diploma is a magical entry to the working world because it noticeably demonstrates proof an individual is willing to change. The recidivism rate is dramatically lowered for ex-inmates when they have the capacity to care for themselves and their families. 

The downside of this seemingly easy solution for a complicated problem is there is a shortage of GED teachers.

Kent County, Grand Rapids, MI Community Corrections has experienced the impact of a scarcity of GED instructors with only one part-time teacher, one tutor, and two youth advocates work with incarcerated students to help them earn their GED. This is a crime because obtaining a diploma for inmates increases their chances of a successful future in the outside world. A GED diploma is the key to employment and avoiding a life of crime.

Despite the grim circumstances Kent County Jail graduated 147 students in 2012 in contrast to a scarce 47 students in 1990-91, the first year GED graduates were recorded.

During Kent County Jail’s most flourishing epoch, 10.5 Grand Rapids public school teachers tutored inmates to earn their GEDs.  The reason the number of GED instructors has dramatically diminished is the lack of funding for Kent County’s reentry programs.

Sherriff’s Captain Randy Demory enjoys witnessing the “sense of accomplishment” the inmates acquire from earning a GED while doing time at Kent County Jail. Demory explains “Most of these folks haven’t yet achieved too many things in life they can be proud of.”

The most significant demand for teachers is for the high school completion program. Kent County Jail has not produced any high school completion graduates because inmates are regarded as dropouts, which affects funding for teachers.   

Bea Harnish, a recently retired GED teacher at Colorado Buena Vista Correctional Facility provides another perspective about the reason why being a GED teacher inside prison walls is not her idea of a “dream job.” Harnish’s five-year stint opened her eyes to a system that needs improving before prospective GED instructors will be “lined up at the door” for a job.

Previously to teaching within the prison system, Harnish was employed as a public school teacher. Despite being hurled into a room with at least a dozen seemingly dangerous criminals, Harnish enjoyed exchanging laughter with her incarcerated students and teaching them to think for themselves. She observed a considerable contrast between teaching on the inside as opposed to the outside.  

60-ish Harnish was required to wear a uniform tailored for the male gender, expected to participate in pat-downs and shake-downs, and was reprimanded for sharing news articles with her students. Harnish says, “There was a lot of serious discussion about values, politics, economics, and religion.”

Even though Harnish departed from her teaching job with fond memories of developing momentous relationships with her students, Harnish states, “Truth be told, another reason was that I was fed up with the ineptitude of the administration.”

Harnish concludes by proclaiming, “I have come away with the conviction (no pun intended) that there is a better way to do corrections.  I like to think that the system has vastly improved over the years and that with proper leadership toward true rehabilitation; there will be more productive, resourceful, confident, well-informed men and women in our communities as opposed to the thousands languishing in our jails and prisons.”