By RYLEE CHERNE
Amarillo College’s prison education program ended in 2003 and wasn’t picked back up until 2019 when David Hall, associate dean of technical education, took over program. “These students are our community members,” said Hall. “Now they can get out back into the world, get their second chance and go do something with it.”
Before AC sends instructors into the prisons, they first have to pass a background check and complete some clearance training. The Inmates also go through a rigorous selection process. “For an interested person to become a student in the program they first have to meet several requirements to be eligible. There are a lot of variables in that but what it boils down to is they can’t have any kinds of disciplinary issues in the past year and they are what we call a trustee level,” said Hall. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice sets the guidelines and rules that dictate whether or not an inmate is allowed to be admitted into the program.
Currently Inmates only have the option to take courses in Diesel Mechanics, but Ac plans to expand the program and eventually offer a wider variety of degrees and even some online courses. “We really are trying to provide a second chance for these people, we want them to have a skill set that they can come out of prison with and immediately go into the workforce,” Becky Burton, associate vice president of academic affairs, said.
A recent change in national law is to make incarcerated individuals eligible for the Pell Grant. While this change is not set to go into effect until July 2023, AC was recently the recipient of a $100,000 grant given by Ascendium Education Group’s Ready for Pell Initiative. The objective of “Ready for Pell” is to help institutions like AC, which provides higher education in the prison systems, get ready to better handle the upcoming changes to the Pell Grant program. “The problem is really that we’re in a limited space, and that we only offer one program,” said Burton. “But with Second Chance Pell, it does give us the opportunity to provide other programs. We are looking at expanding into some additional programs. Even some general education, maybe a General Studies Degree,”
The Ready for Pell grant is to be used solely on the prison education program. The goal is to use the money on the expansion of the course by helping to fund a staff member who can coordinate all of the programs. Another part of the grant money is to be used in a way that will assist with students’ tuition. “I think it is very important Amarillo College is here for our community. That is our sole purpose to help grow the education attainment level of our community,” said, Burton.
Since 2019, AC has helped 18 inmates obtain intermediate certificates in diesel maintenance technology, Which they can then use to immediately enter the local Amarillo workforce. The prison education program gives AC a chance to reach out and connect with the local area by helping to provide higher education to people who may not have had the chance otherwise. “Not everybody who is released from Clements is going to stay in the Amarillo area, but some of them are. So, we have to consider that when we’re considering what we want to do for our community. They are a part of our community too, so it’s just a natural step,” said Burton.