Education Feature: Inmates focus on further education

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Krystal Sanchez of Clovis works on a poem she is writing for Palabras, a Clovis Community College online publication that showcases art and writing.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Krystal Sanchez typed the words of her poem carefully on the computer. Her poem about “thug life” will go in the Clovis Community College student publication, Palabras.

Sanchez, 20, said she wants to study law in the future, but right now she’s waiting for her five-month sentence at the Curry County Detention Center to be over.

Sanchez is taking basic education classes in a room at the end of the detention center’s Women’s Annex, where she is serving a jail sentence for drug possession.

Instead of idling in jail, she is working toward a General Educational Development certificate so she can go to college after serving her sentence.

“It’s very beneficial, it’s given us a chance to make something better of ourselves while we’re in here,” Sanchez said. “Because I feel that education is a necessity in life.”

Detention officer and program coordinator Raymond Atchley said about nine other inmates take the voluntary adult basic education courses. By February, the detention center will have access to ITV, a distance learning tool that allows Clovis Community College instructors to teach inmates without having to go to the jail.

The detention center started offering basic education courses about a year and half ago, according to Atchley.

The main goal of the program is to prepare inmates for the workforce when they get out of jail. The detention center works with CCC to help inmates earn their GED certificates, Atchley said.

Studies have shown education programs help reduce recidivism (the tendency to relapse into crime and return to jail), according to Atchley. He said it’s too soon to tell if the program is helping inmates stay away from jail, but it helps raise inmates’ self-esteem.

“They can walk with their heads held high,” he said.

Atchley said about 80 percent of Curry County inmates did not graduate high school and three out of four inmates are illiterate.

A former police officer, Atchley said he was teaching criminal justice at CCC when he became involved in the jail’s education program.

Aside from adult basic education classes, the program offers computer literacy, citizenship, and anger management classes, Atchley said.

Sanchez said she was sent to the juvenile detention center when she was in the ninth grade and never received her high school diploma.

She was taking GED classes when she was arrested for drug possession.

The program relies heavily on donations, according to Curry County Detention Center Warden Leslie Johnson. Tables, chairs, computers and televisions were donated to the detention center. CCC instructors also donate their time to teach classes.