Inmate educational programs temporarily halted

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Educational programs at the county jail have been suspended in light of the recent escape of eight inmates.

Raymond Atchley, an education specialist who has worked with inmates at the Curry County Adult Detention Center for two years, agrees with the move as long as it is temporary.

He said such programs are still a vital part of curbing recidivism.

“The focus these last two weeks has been on eight individuals, but we can’t forget we have 200 other people to take care of,” the retired police officer said.

“I feel like it will be back. I think it will be back and it will be stronger.”

Interim Administrator Audrey Barriga said religious and library services have also been suspended but said it won’t be permanent.

“We’re going to get them up and going again,” she said.

Atchley said prior to the escape, the educational program was already undergoing re-evaluation because instructors were discovering the traditional classroom setting didn’t work as well in jail.

He said teachers must be on the lookout for contraband, even paper must be limited because of the potential ways it can be used, and teachers must be sensitive to manipulation.

Instructors discovered occasions where inmates enrolled in the general equivalency degree program had already graduated high school but were manipulating the system to gain access to another inmate, he said.

Something a check of an inmate applicant’s educational records would easily prevent.

“It needed realignment, it needed modification,” Atchley said.

“We just constantly have to readjust it, it’s new about every week.”

Instructors are leaning toward more correspondence-oriented teaching than classroom to help eliminate issues, he said, and are evaluating security issues and concerns.

Atchley said one in four New Mexico residents can’t read and one out of 100 Americans go to jail at some point. Education is the key to breaking the cycle and stopping the revolving door, he said.

Some need the most basic skills like hygiene, punctuality and personal presentation while others just need opportunity to increase their education so they can be productive in society, he said.

“You’re always going to have some people that you can’t help, that are going to be criminals,” he said.

“I spent 32 years putting people in jail, and here I am… I get a little bit passionate about it because I believe in it. There’s some people in that facility that simply made wrong choices.”