- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - When Darryl Jarvis grew up in West Virginia, he didn’t care much for school. In fact, he dropped out when he turned 16.

“If I couldn’t understand it, they wouldn’t explain it,” he said. “When I got behind on classes, it got old.”

Now, Jarvis, 28, is locked up at the North Dakota State Penitentiary.

He was dealing drugs in Fargo, he said, and police caught him with methamphetamine in August. When they tried to arrest him, he reportedly kicked and tried to bite an officer.

When he entered prison in September, he tested at a 10th-grade reading level and sixth-grade math level.

“I just had too much going on out there to stop and go to school,” he said.

Jarvis was enrolled in classes and assigned an inmate tutor, who helped him improve three grade levels in math. He is also participating in drug treatment.

And on Monday, he got some “pretty awesome” news: He passed his GED exams. He’s optimistic that he’ll get paroled in June and move to Minnesota to start technical school for diesel mechanics.

The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/2qFRB7f ) reports that the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation requires all men, women and kids entering the 1,800-person prison system without a high school equivalent diploma to take GED classes.

The idea, according to Penny Veit-Hetletved, director of education at the North Dakota Department of Corrections, is that education will reduce recidivism by opening future job opportunities and new, non-criminal frames of mind.

“Once they have the attachment to education, it’s one of those biggest factors that puts them in the change hallway,” Veit-Hetletved said. “It opens some possibility doors that they have never allowed themselves to think about.”

In the past four years, the number of people coming into the state penitentiary without a diploma has risen from 22 to 47 percent, Veit-Hetletved said. The average reading level for men entering the facility is second grade. Women do slightly better at fourth to fifth grade.

A lack of education and reading ability can reduce someone’s critical thinking abilities and make them more susceptible to the kinds of impulsive thinking that leads to crime, Veit-Hetletved said.

“That puts them in always a catch-up mode,” she said. “Their choices will be more impulsive, less thought through in the consequences.”

While taking the GED classes, inmates earn $1.55 per day, the lowest wage in the prison, Veit-Hetletved said. Once they complete a degree, they can go on to another prison job or take classes, such as computer skills and welding.

Veit-Hetletved attributes the decline in diploma-holding prisoners to the increasing dropout rate in the state and failures of special needs education. She said many prisoners attended multiple elementary and middle schools and became truant.

GED pass rates have been increasing, according to Veit-Hetletved. North Dakota led the nation in 2015 in terms of GED pass rates, according to the testing service, and 171 adult inmates graduated with the degree last biennium, according to the department. She said that may be due to collaboration among the 20 teachers and that some prisoners had the skills but no degree.

About half of states have similar GED mandates, according to Lois Davis, a senior policy researcher at RAND corporation, who co-authored a study on correctional education in 2013. Davis’ research found that people who participate in prison education classes are 13 percent less likely to get locked up again. Those who earn a vocational credential inside are 28 percent more likely to get jobs, said David, adding that, $1 spent on education saves $4 to $5 in future incarceration costs.

“Education is one of the clear winners in helping in the rehabilitation process,” said Davis, who indicated North Dakota’s mix of secondary and vocational education is fairly typical of state penal systems.

Some states are, however, starting to add more college opportunities than North Dakota, which has struggled to offer courses since a new rule requires instructors to have master’s degrees in their subject areas.

On Monday morning, about 30 students sat in a large classroom at different learning stations, where the only bars were used to cage computer towers and printers. Some men were at tables, listening as a teacher lectured about basic algebra and the mean, median and mode. Others typed on computers, practicing word processing, spreadsheet and presentation skills. Meanwhile, a third group practiced computer-assisted design, AutoCAD, building digital models of homes and furniture, useful if inmates wish to work at Rough Rider Industries.

Alongside traditional teachers, long-serving prisoners tutor inmates in GED and advanced classes. One of those tutors is Tim Olson, 43, who learned AutoCAD in prison and now teaches other inmates. He is building a website with the curriculum and recently designed a certificate that inmates could present to future employers. He said he’s always been a computer nerd and wants to give others the skills they need to get jobs and never come back to prison.

“This job gives me meaning and purpose,” said Olson, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to continuous sexual abuse of a child. “I figured, if I don’t better myself, I insult the people I hurt.”

In the next couple weeks, Jarvis will take part in a graduation ceremony with full cap and gown and a classic rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance.” There will be cake, punch, coffee and family is invited.

Jarvis, Veit-Hetletved said, exemplifies the mindset change the education system seeks to promote.

“He had no intent of changing until he started to be successful within education,” she said. “Now he can see himself as a diesel mechanic.”

At the ceremony, Jarvis will move the tassel from the right to left side of his cap, and Veit-Hetletved hopes that will be a sign of what’s to come.

“Left to leave,” she said.

___

Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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