Freedom through education

Photos by Bing Gonzales

DRUGS have taken away freedom in our streets, jobs, numerous lives of people we love, and even our children. This has been a problem for entirely too long, and with the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte people are glad that finally someone is determined to put an end to the drug menace in our country that seems impossible to eradicate.

THE FAÇADE of the College Education Behind Bars

THE FAÇADE of the College Education Behind Bars

The Social Entrepreneurship, Technology, and Business Institute, Inc. (SETBI), the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the University of Southeastern Philippines (USEP) has initiated a “College Education Behind Bars” project at the Ma-a City Jail, Davao City.

Aland Mizell, president of SETBI, said that they want to help overcome the drug problem through education because “we believe that the drug epidemic is everyone’s responsibility since it is such a huge social issue that the government alone cannot solve.”

This program aims to provide the inmates, both male and female, who are mostly drug offenders, the means to advance their education in prison. It is a higher education program whose mission is to assist incarcerated students in identifying and achieving their educational goals.

By partnering with the university to engage faculty and students in the vital issue of the country’s burgeoning incarceration population, SETBI hopes to help inmate students build meaningful lives inside the jail and to reduce recidivism by offering them a recovery program with their college diplomas, so that when they are released, they are fully equipped to reintegrate to society as a contributor to nation building and not remain a burden to their family and community.

Dr. Aland Mizell, Attorney Susan Cariaga,; USEP President Dr. Lourdes General; Dr. Kay Mizell and the Chief of the BJMP, J/Dir. Serafino Petronio Barretto, Jr. with other officers.

Through the mentoring and recovery program, detainees enhance skills critical to completing a college degree and building trust in personal relationships. By equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed, their chances of succeeding will significantly increase when they return to the community as competent and productive citizens, workers, and leaders.

SEBTI president Aland Mizell (center) wih Atty. Susan Cariaga (3rd from right), IBP Davao president Atty. Roger Largo (right) and Atty. Danilo Balucos (left) with USEP president Dr. Lourdes Generalao and Dr. Kay Mizell (second from left).

SEBTI president Aland Mizell (center) wih Atty. Susan Cariaga (3rd from right), IBP Davao president Atty. Roger Largo (right) and Atty. Danilo Balucos (left) with USEP president Dr. Lourdes Generalao and Dr. Kay Mizell (second from left).

Mizell said that because their mission is “to help guide them spiritually, academically and physically and to prepare them for reentry, we refer to our students as students rather than calling them “inmates” or “prisoners.” Students passed an entrance exam developed by the USEP to enter the program. Out of 300 hundred inmates assessed and interviewed, 70 individuals passed, 25 females and 45 males, allowing them to enroll in the program for the fall of 2017. Half of the inmate students are enrolled in Agribusiness and half in Information Technology.

Entrance process

These students have not only been tested into the program, but also behaved well, and their continuation in the program will depend on their maintaining good behavior. Failure to meet this requirement will result in their dismissal.

Inmate students will read the same university-assigned textbooks and complete the equivalent college level assignments as the “outside” college students, and when they graduate, they will receive a diploma from the USEP for having completed its college program. To honor the difficulty of college level study in the prison setting, USEP will grant students their earned degree.

THE COMPUTER room

THE COMPUTER room

The only difference is that USEP teachers will travel to the Ma-a Jail to teach courses there, instead of on the USEP campus. Before students enrolled in the program, the educational professionals assessed and screened detainees for basic literacy and readiness for college and documented their grade level, vocational assessment needs, length of sentence, and security clearance. The inmates signed an agreement to enroll in a course, and they know they will be monitored for being on their best behavior at all times.

To be prepared for additional college coursework, transitional employment and life demands for cognitive skills, detainees will be advised after completing their college courses and will be more thoroughly counseled before their release.

Sooner or later, inmates will be out on the street again. Each of the inmates wants to leave the prison world never to return again. To do that, they need to succeed when they re-enter society. There is a huge challenge for the prisoners when the incarcerated get out because eventually most find themselves back in jail.

There are many reasons for the high rate of recidivism, but studies show that the primary cause is unemployment. On the outside they need a job to be able to eat, to have a place to live, to support their family, to hold their heads high, and to know they can handle freedom. But jobs are hard to find when an individual is an ex-convict. With a college degree, good life skills, a core education, and solid vocational training of at least one year or more, released prisoners can overcome the prison stigma.

The concept

Dr. Aland Mizell conceived of and founded the first College Education Behind Bars project in the Philippines in 2016 with the backing of Attorney Susan Cariaga.

SETBI funded this project by building and furnishing the classrooms designed for small classes taught face to face by part- and full-time professors. It is housed in a  two-story modern building with five classrooms, two with individual laptops, one with audiovisual equipment, as well as an office, faculty lounge, and coffee shop. All educators working in the program are required to follow prison rules strictly, and both the BJMP conducted a thorough security briefing for faculty and staff.

 This is the first pilot project in the Philippines, even in Asia, a model that SETBI anticipates implementing across the Philippines.   The original Memorandum of Agreement for this College Education Behind Bars project was signed by Dr. Aland Mizell, Attorney Susan Cariaga, Vice-President of SETBI; the University of Southeastern Philippine’s President Dr. Lourdes General; and the Chief of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), J/Dir. Serafino Petronio Barretto, Jr., CESO IV, on September 28, 2016, at the House of Representatives, Batasan Road, Batasan Hills.  Congresswoman Mylene Garcia- Albano of the Second District of Davao City, and Attorney Lily Freida M. Milla, CESO IV, Director III, International Affairs, Commission on Higher Education, and Davao City Jail Warden JSupt. Grace S. Taculin, and Assistant Warden JS Insp. Roberto C. Gotico witnessed the signing in Quezon City.

The Davao City Jail accounts for 3250 inmates, which is more prisoners than the official capacity they can accommodate. Living in cramped spaces is dangerous to health and human life. Those conditions breed diseases, which creates a system that adds punishment on another level.

Sometimes laws, rules, and regulations do not change people; only a change of the heart can break the chains of incarceration.

Prison is not the end of the line for many detainees; instead, it can be the beginning of a very special life for them with the right programs. They become aware that there is a very different life outside the jail than the one they knew when they came in. This initiative is about breaking down the barriers and letting the inmates know their life does not have to be like the one they first chose.

Educational programs

The right educational programs are crucial for several reasons. They help detainees with a successful reentry into society by giving them the education they need to make the right decisions in their lives. The right educational program also gives detainees the necessary interview and job skills to find a job when they get out of jail. Without a job they are much more likely to end up right back in jail. Some believe that the programs are too expensive to fund, but it could be more costly to keep them in jail without educational programs because those are more likely to commit more crimes and be incarcerated again.

Education is freedom. Therefore, Education Behind Bars presents an opportunity for the detainees to have hope now and to prepare them for success upon release from jail.

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