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MERCER, PA. Program for inmates earns praise



Published: Sun, July 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The prisoners can earn up to 18 college credits in the program, but they have to pay part of the cost.

By TERESA SPATARA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

MERCER, Pa. -- Higher education is getting rave reviews at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution in Findley Township.

"It's the best thing I have done in my entire life," said Eddie Charles Bridges, 46.

"First time I ever did well at anything," added Gregory Whitford, 26.

The two inmates were speaking of the 18-credit program in business administration offered at the prison through Butler County Community College.

Bridges and Whitford are among 35 inmates in the program, which includes courses in English composition, business law, human resources, principles of management, business math and accounting principles.

Funding for the program comes from two sources: The state pays BCCC $10,000 a year, and each inmate pays $50 for each three-credit course.

"It's expensive for us," the inmates said, "as we earn 19 cents to 45 cents an hour for our work here. Our monthly pay is around $7.50." Families of the inmates are permitted to help to pay for the courses, officials said.

Future plans: Whitford, who could be released next year after serving five years, wants to be a financial planner or analyst upon his release.

"The program here is custom-made for what I hope to do," he said. "I have a 4.0 grade point average for the program. In high school, my grades were mediocre at best.

"I want to keep doing well and prove myself. It's a great program. I hope it continues for a long time," Whitford added.

"The program is positive," said Bridges. "It will help me get employment for a decent living."

Bridges was a clerk in a sporting goods store and finds the courses helpful for that work. He could also be released next year. He has served eight years.

Both inmates are on the President's List, which requires a grade point average of 3.75 or above. For the Dean's List, students must have a grade point average of 3.25 to 3.74.

Like all other college-credit programs in Pennsylvania correctional facilities, the one here is designed to prevent recidivism.

As Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Jeff Beard has said, "The better educated an inmate is [when he is released], the more likely he is to find meaningful work and the less likely he is to come back to us."

William Davis, academic and education guidance counselor at the prison, said the inmates tend to do well in their courses, in part, because they can't continue if their grades drop and any course graded below a C won't transfer to another college.

"Besides," said Fred Ruffo, assistant to the SCI superintendent, "they can study here without the distractions of parties and other college activities."




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