Rikers Island Visit Provides Insight for Staff Member, Student


A Pennsylvania College of Technology student and staff member recently toured Rikers Island — the location of 10 New York City Department of Correction facilities — to learn about the educational programs on the island.Jeremiah C. Gee, assessment coordinator for the School of Integrated Studies, and Brandon J. Close, a Penn College business management student, visited Rikers Island by invitation of Timothy Lisante, deputy superintendent of alternative schools for the New York City Department of Education. Lisante provided insight on the challenges faced by the educational-service providers on Rikers — many of which mirror those faced by rural county jails.

Rikers Island is one of the world’s largest penal colonies. The current average daily population is about 14,000; on any given day, more than 1,000 students receive educational services in a variety of settings. The vast majority of those behind bars on Rikers are detainees who are not yet sentenced. Gee and Close toured three facilities and met with several school principals and instructors. They learned about the instruction and design of the curricula, the arrangement of the physical spaces and the administrative relationships between those in corrections and those in education.

“In general, we learned about needs, opportunities and outcomes,” Gee said.

“Gaining an understanding of how those who provide education on Rikers have handled student learning outcomes assessment was very beneficial,” he added. “Correctional education is a field in which outcomes are especially important, and careful assessment has shown us that education makes a positive impact when it comes to successful re-entry.”

Given the phenomenal expense of mass incarceration and the recent Pew Center on the States report that one in 100 Americans is incarcerated, research in the field of correctional education is coming more into the national spotlight. Ninety-five percent of all inmates are eventually released back to their communities, and advocates for correctional education cite a growing research base showing that, dollar-for-dollar, correctional education is a more effective use of money than incarceration alone.

Seeking a simple and direct way to engage the incarcerated with education, Close has spent the past several months developing the Collegiate Association for County Correctional Education. This organization seeks to provide educational media for the libraries of Pennsylvania’s county correctional facilities – a distinct need, especially in rural counties.

“Meeting Mr. Lisante and visiting Rikers confirmed for me the importance of organizations such as the CACCE,” Close said. “Here in rural Pennsylvania, we have little resources to work with compared to New York City, and yet the incarcerated members of our communities face many of the same barriers to successful re-entry.”

The primary mission of the association is to help individuals overcome one of those barriers — lack of educational opportunities.

The CACCE is in the process of attaining status as an official Penn College student organization and is on target to become the first organization of its kind to affiliate with the international Correctional Education Association.

Students, staff, faculty or members of the community who seek more information about correctional education or the CACCE’s goals and mission should contact Close at clobra55@pct.edu or Gee at jgee@pct.edu.

For more about Penn College, visit http://www.pct.edu, e-mail admissions@pct.edu or call toll-free (800) 367-9222.

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