Education has redirected many veterans after they transition from military service to civilian life. Now, a group of philanthropic veterans at Western Nevada College and progressive-minded administrators at the Nevada Department of Corrections are assisting inmate veterans and other prisoners prepare for their futures.
Through a spring barbecue fundraiser, the Veterans Resource Center at WNC assisted in raising $4,500 for inmate scholarships at NDOC’s Warm Springs Correctional Center in Carson City.
Three months later, the VRC is putting the donated funds into motion. They will provide 15 one-class scholarships, allowing inmates to enroll in courses such as business mathematics, sociology, and history. Last spring, inmates took remedial math, remedial English and a course fostering student success.
WNC Veterans Resource Director Kevin Burns helped structure the Veterans Integration Program at Warm Springs Correctional Center last January so inmates can work toward an Associate of General Studies degree while incarcerated. It’s the first time since 2009 inmates can take classes through WNC.
“Obviously we want to fill more seats in the classes there,” Burns said. “Studies show that as educational levels go up, recidivism rates go down. We are really trying to push recidivism rates down and give these guys some skill sets so when they get out of there, they can do something.”
Burns met with WSCC administrators on Wednesday to celebrate the fundraising effort that was coordinated and orchestrated by the inmates themselves. To make the barbecue fundraiser successful, Burns said the Warm Springs inmates ordered from a menu, then paid for their selections. Burns and Rick Vlach, an assistant for WNC’s WRC and a pre-admissions adviser, transported more than 160 steaks, 200 pork chops and 200 hamburger patties, baked beans, fruit and potato salad from Costco to Warm Springs for the barbecue. Lisa Walsh, the associate warden from Warm Springs, purchased $5,000 in food for the barbecue after collecting money from the prisoners’ accounts.
“I’m really proud of the efforts of my staff and the inmates,” said Warden Harold Wickham. “Inmates taking responsibility and working to fund their own education in custody is pretty ground-breaking. We hope to set the example for other facilities to follow.”
Walsh said the scholarships, as well as the classes, are available to any inmate in the general population, which numbers more than 500. Walsh said some of the classes include as many as 20 student inmates. Inmates must apply for the scholarships to be considered. “This is not affecting the taxpayers whatsoever,” said Walsh, who has helped establish WSCC programs where inmates care for unwanted/aggressive dogs and motherless kittens. “Their families are sending them to school or they have saved their money and are paying for their own schooling, or they are benefiting from the fundraiser scholarships.”
In the future, WSCC will be able to track those inmates who took classes before being released from the correctional center.
“We have a list of all the students who have received a scholarship and we’ll know those who will earn an associate degree,” Walsh said.
Eventually, Burns hopes to diversify the class offerings to inmates.
“We want to expand next into the Career and Technical field,” Burns said. “I would love to have a welding shop set up there so we can get these guys some certifications before they step out of the door for the last time.”
Providing inmates with a relevant education and skills can determine whether they become employed after leaving the correctional facility.
“One of the things you have to look at is what fields are going to hire ex-cons, and that’s a tricky subject, but when you look at some of the traditional blue-collar fields like welding, automotive shops and those kinds of things, we think we can get them job placement much easier in those fields,” Burns said.