The Value of Inmate Tutors

Basically, I have little or no preparation time. In my official schedule, I have 15 minutes a day of preparation time for 40 to 50 students. And they each have their own individual education plan that I previously outlined for you. So, my organization plan is absolutely crucial, even if all it does is save me valuable time.

Again, consistency is imperative. It takes hard work, constant engagement, observation, analyzing, tweaking, and an awareness of the surroundings. But if you create a system for yourself, for any tutors or clerks or student teachers you might have, and for the students, it is going to pay off big time. Stress levels will lower, productivity will increase, your students’ academic levels will increase, and you’ll be able to illustrate this concretely to your administrators.

As for tutors, I use inmate tutors. I generally use two in the morning and two in the afternoon. They do clerical work for me, make student folders, grade pretests, fill out assignment sheets, and/or help teach the students how to manage their own plans.

Also, the tutors explain operations and procedures to the new students. They help with daily work, at a student’s request. They keep books and supplies in order and accounted for, and they sign out books students wish to borrow.

I choose tutors based on their trustworthiness, and their respect of the other students. I don’t tolerate arrogance from them; they must treat the students as equals. I also appreciate self-starters. They must have a lot of initiative.

I don’t care whether or not tutors have a college degree. Some of my best tutors are former students who passed the GED Test. By the time they’ve earned their GED, they already know the organizational system and the way we work. And if they are good at working with the other students without making them feel embarrassed, then that student is potentially a great tutor!

It takes time to train tutors, but in the long run it is very, very worth it, because they help immensely.

Janice M. Chamberlin, a licensed prison educator in Indiana, is the author of Locked Up With Success. In her book, Ms. Chamberlin shares stories not only of the challenges she has faced, but also the triumphs she has seen in the prison classroom setting. She has successfully developed a system that can unlock potential even in the highest risk students. The full paperback or digital version can be purchased at