Big year for GEDs in Idaho prisons

Four SBWCC staff members flank an inmate in cap and gown
SBWCC staff with a GED graduate

For the Idaho Department of Correction, 2013 was a banner year for GED completions. Thanks to a fierce deadline and dedicated IDOC educators, almost twice as many Idaho inmates earned their GED diplomas over the year before.

Why did so many inmates hit the books?

On January 2, the company that runs the GED program, the GED Testing Service, launched a new, more rigorous curriculum.  It's intended to better prepare students for college and the challenges they'll face in today's workplace.

But the overhaul had a steep downside for students who had been working toward their GED credential and not yet passed all five exams. If the students did not finish before the new curriculum was adopted, they'd have to start over from scratch and then face the challenge of passing a more difficult set of exams.

"That brought a lot of procrastinators to the Robert Janss School and a big bottleneck of students needing to pass one or two tests, usually writing or math," says Julie Oye-Johnson, IDOC's director of Education Services.

Oye-Johnson says IDOC's educators did a great job communicating to inmates the importance of finishing up their GED studies before the deadline and preparing the inmates for the exams.  And when it came time to take the tests, Oye-Johnson says several members of education team went above and beyond the call of duty.

"Bill Farmer from North Idaho Correctional Institution drove two offenders to the testing site at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston on the last day of testing in time for the 8 a.m. testing tart time," Oye-Johnson says.  "That's a 90-minute drive; he had to have the offenders in the state car and leaving town at 6:30 in order to make it!"

In another case, an inmate at Idaho State Correctional Institution failed his last exam by just one point.

"The ISCI and ICC staff worked with security to have him moved to take part in the ICC testing session, the next day," Oye-Johnson says. "The offender was received at ICC and went directly to Education to take the test, and he passed." 


Story published: 01/29/2014

By the numbers

GED completions shot up in August as word spread that inmates who had not yet passed the program's five exams would have to start from scratch in 2014 and face more rigorous exams.


Month 2013 2012
 July  44 31
 Aug.  77 33
 Sept.  65 27
 Oct.  53 38
 Nov. 64 17
 Dec.  56 37
Total 359 183

IDOC trivia

Who was Robert Janss for whom the prison schools are named?

Janss was a retired lawyer and early supporter of prison education from Alaska who moved to Idaho and became a teacher.  He taught at Capital High School in Boise for several years. 

While he was there, he started working with literacy programs at the old penitentiary.  His work in law had led him to believe that inmates should have reading skills at least good enough to understand the laws by which they were incarcerated.

When the new prison was built south of Boise, the principal named the school after Bob Janss in recognition of his dedication to teaching literacy to inmates.

As each institution added accredited schools, the Robert Janss school grew, until now there are seven sites at which inmates have the opportunity to earn a high school diploma or G.E.D. certificate through instruction from certified teachers. 

Nearly half of the prison population in the state now receives literacy, secondary education, life skills and vocational programs in these schools.  Robert Janss died in 1981, but he would have been pleased with the development of the schools established in his name.

This article was originally published in September, 2004.  Vol. 1, Issue 1 of "The School Scoop"


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