Jail inmates can take classes for college credit

Santa Clara County inmates can receive credit for college-level courses under an agreement approved Tuesday in partnership with the San Jose State University Research Foundation.

The board of supervisors unanimously approved a $325,000 contract between the county and university that will allow inmates to obtain college credit for taking classes while in custody.

The classes would fulfill general education requirements and allow inmates to enroll in a community college or university after they’ve completed their sentences under the agreement that expires on June 30, 2018.

“We recognize inmate success while in custody will make them successful upon release,” county Reentry Services Director Javier Aguirre said at today’s board meeting in San Jose.

The program will begin in mid-September at the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas where men will take an introductory course in kinesiology and women will learn about record clearance through the college’s Justice Studies Department, Aguirre said.

The classes will be “identical to what a student would be taking while at the university,” he said.

The county Department of Correction already offers basic English and writing programs for inmates under a partnership with Milpitas Adult Education, but it would be its first time they could take college-credit classes through SJSU, Aguirre said.

There are 60 slots available in each class that will be offered twice a week in four-hour blocks for 12 weeks in addition to tutoring sessions with university graduate students and evening study groups in inmates’ dormitories, Aguirre said.

One course would be offered to the men’s facility and another for the women’s facility for 12 weeks, according to county officials.

The classes would be made up of inmates serving longer sentences at a minimum of six to eight months, Aguirre said.

The inmates could choose from three-unit courses in philosophy, justice studies, writing, public speaking, child development and personal, academic and career exploration.

The classes were selected based on a survey completed by inmates who indicated they wanted to gain knowledge in career development, writing and communication skills, according to Aguirre.

The department is still figuring out how they would provide computer access to inmates if necessary for the coursework, Aguirre said.

County Reentry Services will monitor inmates’ progression in the courses and immediately makes any changes as needed, according to Aguirre.

The credit-eligible college courses have been on the county’s wish list for years, said Neelam Wadhwani, program manager for at the county’s Correction Department.

The program will begin with a small group of inmates under minimum-level security and is expected to eventually expand to the whole jail population, Wadhwani said.

The board’s approval sends the “message to inmates that they are valued and they can strive for something more when they get out,” she said.