Inmates at the Cuyahoga County Corrections Center given a chance to finish their high school education

by Patrick Cooley

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Before Dayshawn Dukes began serving his term at the Cuyahoga County Corrections Center, his employer, Bishop Prince Moultry of In Touch for Christ Christian Center in Cleveland, told him he would need to finish his high school education.

Dukes said he was turned down for numerous jobs because he didn’t have a high school diploma. But after a ceremony in a multi-purpose room in the corrections center on Tuesday afternoon, he now has his GED — the equivalent of a high school diploma — and possibly a better chance for a job.

He was one of a dozen prisoners who received their GEDs Tuesday. With the help of Project Learn, a Cleveland nonprofit organization that helps adults earn their GED, they took a roughly three month course to prepare for the GED exam.

Prominent members of the county sheriff’s office were present to watch three teachers hand certificates to the inmates, and congratulate them on their accomplishment.

“For a 21-year-old, a high school diploma amounts to $500,000 in earnings over the course of a lifetime,” Project LEARN CEO Rich Peterson said in a brief statement before the ceremony.

According to the National Education Association, someone with a high school diploma or the equivalent earns on average roughly $9000 more per year than someone without a high school education.

But Peterson urged each inmate to continue their education after their release.

Danielle Jones, who also received her GED on Tuesday, said she is planning to do just that.

Jones said before she was sentenced, she was taking courses at Cuyahoga Community College with the hopes of becoming a professional chef. But she said she needed to finish her GED before she finished the program.

“I only have a few more classes to take,” she said. “So I thought, while I was in here, why not (get my GED)?”

The corrections center’s GED course is the only local jail program of its kind in Ohio, according to a press release that announced Tuesday’s ceremony.

This year, 38 inmates at the Cuyahoga County Corrections Center have received their diplomas, said Elizabeth Koenig, the center’s social services coordinator.

The center houses nearly 2,100 inmates, but spaces in the Project LEARN’s inmate GED program are limited, and administrators say the demand is high.

“There’s an overwhelming number of (inmates) that ask about it,” Koenig said.

Koenig said she didn’t have information on the program’s graduation rates, but said the last group to take test included 17 inmates, and 12 passed.

At least one had enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College, she said.

Three instructors teach courses for inmates, Koenig said, and Parma City Schools administers the GED test four times per year, with 19 slots available each time.

Because of the limited space, inmates are scrutinized before they are allowed to participate in the program.

Daniel Barach, a social worker who works at the jail, said he helps evaluate inmates.

“We want to see if they’re suitable to take the test,” he said.

In August, the Rand Corporation released the results of a study  – commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice – that concluded prisoners are less likely to commit crimes after being released if they are educated while in prison.

Cuyahoga County Sheriff Frank Bova and corrections center direction Ken Kochevar both addressed the inmates on Tuesday.

“There’s not one good thing about being incarcerated,” Bova said. “But you’ve turned a negative into a positive.”

Both men shook hands with inmates who received their GED certificates.