Community colleges resume in-person instruction at prisons | #education | #technology | #training

North Carolina community colleges have a long history of educating inmates with some programs dating back over 40 years.

Cleveland Community College is one of 41 community colleges that provide educational opportunities to incarcerated individuals. According to the North Carolina Community College System, the colleges offer educational programs to approximately 53 facilities across the state.

But Cleveland has an arrangement unlike the other 40 colleges. 

In July 2021, the college gained ownership of the Cleveland Correctional Center. The prison closed in 2009 when the state Department of Corrections shut down seven prisons, cutting costs of over $22 million annually. The college started holding classes at the facility after it closed. Two years later, former state Sen. Wes Westmoreland helped pass legislation that would transfer the closed prison to Cleveland Community College. While the transfer process began in 2011, it did not become official until this past year.

Since assuming ownership, the college has made significant changes, including converting solitary confinement cells into welding booths. EdNC visited the site in fall 2021.

Solitary confinement cells converted to welding booths. Emily Thomas/EducationNC

The facility currently houses four educational programs, including plumbing, carpentry, welding, and electrical systems. Dr. Jason Hurst, president of Cleveland Community College, said there are multiple opportunities to expand programs, pointing out the full kitchen that could be used for a culinary program.

Cleveland Community College serves prisoners from Lincoln Correctional Center in Lincolnton. Inmates enrolled in the educational programs are transported from Lincolnton to Cleveland where they receive training from college instructors. The education they receive is identical to that of a traditional community college student. 

Once a prisoner completes the one-year program, they earn a certificate from the college. According to Brandon Ruppe, director of customized training at Cleveland Community College, the inmates also receive a National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) certification, which is a nationally recognized trade credential. 

Fall 2021 was the first semester inmates were allowed to return to the facility since the beginning of the pandemic. In 2020, N.C. Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) suspended all face-to-face instruction in prisons. The state did, however, allow for alternative learning, and inmates were able to complete bookwork. 

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