FCI-Petersburg's Education Department Problems and Innovative Solutions

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

This additional closure, while not huge on its face, becomes imposing when you take into account 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 which would have taught around 35 students and the Friday night GED Fast-Track program which 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 cancelled and the GED Fast-Track program will be cut back to 5 days a week.

While I'm certainly not a fan of this newfound reduction in operational hours, I am a fan of the two solutions being implemented here at FCI-Petersburg. In a very positive move, the administration of FCI-Petersburg is going to 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'm certainly looking 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 the testers for it. 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 particular course.

After the student takes the pre-test, they are allowed to go to the Education Department whenever it is open and watch videos which form the foundation of the course. The only limitation to the program is that there are only two TVs available for the programs. So, if the TVs are already in use, the student must wait until one becomes vacant to participate. Furthermore, there is not yet a TV sign-up option. 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 and 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 pleased 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, no instructor needed and minimal staff involvement to operate. Hence, it is an educational program that has true potential to assist hundreds of incarcerated students in a particular prison on a yearly basis.