By Kristi Pihl, Herald staff writer
Wednesday, May. 25, 2011
CONNELL — An associate degree program at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center that prison officials said helps reduce recidivism has been saved from the chopping block.
A private foundation has awarded a $140,000 grant to keep the Connell prison’s associate degree program going until 2012, when Department of Corrections officials hope a federal grant will be reinstated.
The grant from the Sunshine Lady Foundation, operated by Doris Buffett, sister of billionaire Warren Buffett, will start July 1 and continue until June 30, 2012.
Without the grant, the program was expected to end Sept. 30 because the federal grant that had paid for the program since it started in fall 2009 had not been funded for the 2011 fiscal year.
But with the foundation grant, the program will be able to continue at a reduced level, said Loretta Taylor, the Connell prison’s education director.
Instead of about 12 college level classes each quarter, there will be nine. And instead of the current 194 students, Taylor said the program likely will enroll 120.
That means students who have the most credits and are closest to graduation can continue, she said. About 100 students could graduate in the next year.
The associate degree program is in its second year, so Taylor said the prison was just getting to the point of having more graduates from the program each quarter. So far, seven have received associate degrees and five more will graduate in June.
The program also will try to include those inmates who are closest to their release dates, she said.
Taylor said she has seen a lot of relief and gratitude from the program’s current students.
“It was going to be quite a blow to them because it had become such a huge part of their focus,” she said.
Mike Paris, DOC’s administrator of offender education, said he would like to see the program continue at its current capacity but that means coming up with another $100,000 because the program costs about $243,000 per year.
DOC isn’t sure yet what its budget will be for offender programs, he said.
The state Legislature has yet to pass a budget and it will take DOC a couple of weeks to determine what can be funded on the wish list of programs, he said. Coyote Ridge’s associate degree program is one of many on that list.
The House adopted the budget Tuesday evening; the Senate is expected to vote on it today.
Paris said the prison will reapply for the U.S. Department of Education grant for 2012.
“These inmates will be released,” Taylor said. “We need to do something to ensure that they are released a better person.”
An analysis by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy shows basic or post-secondary education in prisons helps cut crime by 7 percent.
Coyote Ridge is one of three prisons with associate degree programs in the state. Walla Walla State Penitentiary’s program started three years ago with a grant from the Sunshine Lady Foundation and will continue at a reduced level with the foundation’s grant. And the Monroe Correctional Complex’s associate degree program is entirely paid for by another private foundation grant.
The associate degree program is one of those on a menu that DOC uses to try to reduce recidivism. Paris said it is like the top tier of those programs. No one program will decrease the chances that every inmate will return to prison, which is why a variety is needed, he said.
Those programs are an investment in reducing crime and lowering the number of victims, Paris said.
Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org