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Prison teacher ad drew huge response

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Correctional Services Canada had contracted out prison teaching jobs for the past two decades but this year decided to hire permanent teachers. They started last week.

Pam Booker, regional manager of education for Correctional Services Canada's Prairie region, said on offer were 49.5 full-time equivalent teaching jobs in the prisons in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, including six teaching jobs at Stony Mountain and two at adjoining Rockwood minimum-security institution.

She got 387 applications.

 

CSC preferred teachers capable of working with adult learners who had an awareness of aboriginal culture.

It's a given among people teaching in adult learning centres that the students are far more dedicated and focused than some teenagers might be. Prison school is no exception.

"They have some motivation to improve their lot in life," Booker said.

While there's no science lab, students still dissect frogs just as every kid in Manitoba did. Of course, giving an inmate a scalpel wouldn't be the coolest move.

"They do computer dissections. We found some fantastic programs," Booker said. "We want to provide opportunities for offenders. We deliver it in means that's safest for all the population."

"Most of our units do offer a graduation ceremony," she said, including borrowed caps and gowns from universities.

"For the first time, they're encountering success" in school and in the trades, said Booker. There's no shop -- sharp tools and heavy blunt instruments in a prison? Seriously? -- but inmates can take vocational courses through DVDs.

"We hope we'll be able to look at some form of e-learning," she said. "We want them to be ready to pursue either other studies or employment. Their primary motivation is they see how it impacts their lives in the community."

Allen Boulton sits in while inmates give interviews about the education system within Correctional Services Canada to make sure they don't talk about their trials, other inmates, the victims of their crimes. They can't reveal their teachers' identities either.

As programs manager at Stony, Boulton's duties include balancing out the classes through population management. In plain language, "In a class of 10, you don't want five Manitoba Warriors because they'd overwhelm and try to recruit," Boulton said.

Maybe thinking about his own safety, a visitor asks how the teachers feel being in a classroom with a dozen inmates and no guard.

Boulton pointed to a device on his belt. All staff have personal protection alarms, he said. "Officers would be deployed here -- there'd be 20 people here within a minute."

OK, feeling better now.

Teachers go to the cells in the morning, often because of "movement controls" -- jargon that indicates many students aren't allowed to mix with other parts of the population.

"We have very low levels of education. It's definitely been a large part towards the goal of rehabilitation," Boulton said. "They need job skills, correctional needs and education upgrades."

In late January, Booker and a colleague staffed a recruiting booth at the University of Manitoba faculty of education job fair, looking to hire permanent teachers for prison schools.

It took almost a full year for Correctional Services Canada to decide if it would allow journalists inside the prison, and then to run criminal record checks on individual reporters and photographers. It's not clear whether the minister had to sign off.

Along the way, one bureaucrat asked directly: did the Free Press intend to write a story accusing the federal government of wasting taxpayers' money giving convicted criminals an education?

nmartin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2011 j5

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