I am responding to the articles in the St. Croix Source of May 22, 2006, "Senators Move on Bills Inmate Reading…" and March 6, 2006, "Senators Continue Debate of Police Chief Bill…" regarding the establishment of a voluntary reading program for inmates of the territory.
I would like to strongly urge that the educational programs in the prisons be continued and expanded. This winter I served as one of a group of educational volunteers from Holy Cross RC Church serving the population of the Golden Grove Correctional Facility. I have been a educator of 35 years, having taught from kindergarten through the university level. I can say, without reservation, that I found this to be my most rewarding professional experience. The students were respectful and anxious to learn. They attended regularly, willingly completed assignments and intelligently contributed to class discussion. These men should not be abandoned.
Issues of funding are always at the crux of any reform discussion. I understand that complying with existing mandates is important and necessary. In fact, given the recent murder within the prison, security must be provided for inmates, employees and volunteers alike. The Department of Corrections must provide a safe environment, or no programs can be operated.
However, waiting for appropriate funding can be just an excuse for doing nothing. There are many volunteer groups and programs available for assessing and administering adult literacy programs (such as Literacy Volunteers of America). They do not entail the hiring of professional teachers, but rather depend on caring volunteers to follow prescribed assessments and well-developed curricula.
I urge the legislature not to let this bill languish in committee forever, when there are willing people who are able to teach and willing students who are waiting for the chance to improve their lives. This is all about giving inmates the opportunity to learn basic skills so that they can return to the community as contributing members of society. It is money well spent.
Christiansted, St. Croix
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