By CHELCEY ADAMI Staff Writer
A new program that allows qualifying Imperial County jail inmates to study alongside Imperial Valley College students has wrapped up its first semester.
The Inside/Out College program is the first of its kind in the state and is offered through a collaboration with the Imperial County Sheriff's Office, Imperial Valley College and the Imperial County Probation Department.
Fourteen "inside" students from the jail and nine "outside" students from IVC met weekly at the Imperial County Day Reporting Center to complete a one-unit college course in the Alcohol and Drug Studies Program, focusing on life skills development.
Incarcerated students not only gain education but also are more likely to continue their education once they leave while the students not incarcerated gain a different perspective on the criminal justice system.
"This was a great experience," according to instructor Aruna Patel. "This is what education is all about – discovering how we can work together for a better future."
Inside/Out College Program coordinator Gaylla A. Finnell and sheriff's Sgt. Robert Wilson attended a week-long training last year in Michigan as part of the program.
"We were determined to get the training necessary to insure we had the best chance possible for success," according to Finnell. "We knew we were trying something different, and we wanted to make sure we were establishing a quality program for Imperial County."
Incarcerated students participating in the program will be low-risk offenders selected through a screening process to ensure their type of offense isn't violent and that they are ideal students for the program, Finnell explained.
All the students completing the class were honored during a special ceremony at the center on Wednesday.
The Imperial County Sheriff's Office is the first sheriff's office in the nation to offer this course.
"The Imperial County Sheriff's Office is proud to be a part of this innovative and ground-breaking program. In the few short weeks that this program has been in existence, I have seen significant change in not only the perception of the inmates themselves, but the perceptions of the outside students," according to Sheriff Ray Loera. "This is the type of program that will benefit the community by helping people re-integrate as productive members of society."