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Inmates earn certificates from Sinclair

Tuesday, February 9, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Melinda Dorning

Posted: 6:05 p.m. Monday, Feb. 8, 2016 to

When Jamie Belville is released from Dayton Correctional Institute in April, she hopes to use the college credentials she earned while behind bars to help live a “fulfilling life.”

Belville and about 40 other inmates at DCI received postsecondary credentials Monday from Sinclair Community College. The inmates were joined by joyful — and in some instances tearful — family and friends as they walked up and received their diplomas during a ceremony in the prison.

Jamie Belville shakes Sinclair President Steven Johnson’s hand as she receives her certificate during Monday’s ceremony at Dayton Correctional Institute. CHUCK HAMLIN/STAFFCHUCK HAMLIN/STAFF

Jamie Belville shakes Sinclair President Steven Johnson’s hand as she receives her certificate during Monday’s ceremony at Dayton Correctional Institute. Photo: Chuck Hamlin

Sinclair’s prison education program has been around for decades; the school says it has helped thousands of Ohio inmates get the appropriate education and skills to find a job and contribute to society.

“There is a huge gap that (Sinclair’s program) fills,” Belville said. “I think education is really important for the women here. I’m a little conflicted; my sister and my family out there are struggling to get their education. But in here, we kind of get that advantage.

“We’re blessed with that. I know many of the women in here are extremely grateful, and I definitely am. I know it’s going to make it easier for me to do the right thing. It benefits the community as a whole for us to be educated.”

Belville got locked up eight years ago on a burglary-related charge.

“I married young at 16 and kind of got in some trouble with my ex-husband. A little bit of a co-dependent abusive relationship: drugs, you know, the stereotypical situation. And I got myself in trouble and came to prison. But going (to prison) saved my life,” the 28-year-old said.

DCI is one of seven correctional institutions across the state where Sinclair provides education to inmates. At any given time, around 700 inmates are taking courses through the community college. To participate in the program, inmates must be within five years of release. In addition, students need nearly perfect class attendance to graduate.

Since 2013, Sinclair has graduated 1,161 inmates. All of its 11 certificate programs are what the school calls “job focused.” These programs include bakery specialist, health record technician and supply chain management.

“This kind of advanced job training program allows these young women to get the kind of training they need to get them the foundation they need to go on and further their education at Sinclair or any other university,” said Sinclair President Steven Johnson.

It costs $1,950 per year for Sinclair to educate an inmate — an expense that is paid by the state. Sinclair officials say the figure is well below the cost it takes to house someone in prison. In 2010, the average cost to incarcerate an inmate in Ohio was estimated at $24,870.

Sinclair also said the odds of recidivism are reduced by 43 percent when inmates participate in “correctional education.”

Sinclair has awarded Belville with six certificates, everything from entrepreneurship and business foundations to call center support. In all, the Reynoldsburg native has earned slightly more than 90 credit hours.

“My goal is to complete as many credit hours as I can, so that I can transfer to a four-year college. I want to go to Wright State University. I’m closest to a bachelor’s degree in business administration, but I’m really interested in computer science,” she said.

“My passion now is learning. I’m so obsessed with it. I’ve been teaching myself different computer languages. There is a hunger inside of you and you want to fill that with something. I can’t imagine my life without the program.”

Several other Ohio community colleges and universities have similar programs, but Sinclair educates the most inmates among these schools.

“It’s always right and correct to provide education to those that can benefit from such an education,” Johnson said. “These young women have proven that they can benefit from an education. It’s good for everyone. It’s good for us. It’s good for employers. It’s good for the community.”

Cheryl Taylor, who coordinates Sinclair’s prison programs, said sometimes members of the community complain about inmates receiving “free” education. That’s a notion she calls short-sighted.

“People have dignity and worth and we should give them a second chance,” Taylor said. “The reality is that 90 percent will be released, they will live next to you, go to school with your kids and see you at Walmart.

“It’s $25,000 to incarcerate. Why not spend a little bit of money to make sure they don’t come back? It makes sense fiscally and morally.”

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