A program which helps medium- to maximum-security inmates at the District of Columbia Department of Corrections acquire skills needed to pursue productive lives beyond prison walls, has been lauded for outstanding achievement.
The acknowledgment, announced in light of a 57 percent GED attainment rate among participants, highlights the “Don’t Forget Us Peer Tutorial” program that was launched nearly three years ago at the jail.
At the time of its inception, the program’s participants came from varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds, with the pursuit of education being a common thread among them.
The program continues to operate with limited resources and without traditional teacher involvement. DOC officials say what makes it so unique is that it’s led by inmates, who provide group and individualized instruction at two program-intensive housing units inside the jail.
Additionally, the program is so serious that inmates bent on participation must adhere to a strict code of conduct, as well offer their compliance by signing a copy of the program’s rules and regulations.
DOC spokeswoman Michon Parker said DFU is based on the concept of “each one, teach one,” learning models as emphasized in the recent hit movie, Precious.
The program, which was featured in the April issue of the DOC’s Corrections Today publication, is currently designed for all-males enrollees. According to Parker, a similar project is on tap for their female counterparts.
DOC Director Devon Brown said DFU currently enrolls more than 250 inmates and serves as the foundation of the jail’s rehabilitative efforts. He said DFU is voluntary on the part of inmates and that it is so popular there is a waiting list of inmates poised for enrollment.
“We’ve made a concerted effort to ensure that the program is available and that all inmates realize that education is the most important elements of what they have to build upon,” Brown said. “They have to realize that without that GED, their prospects for employment, or, in essence, for re-entering society on a constructive note, are limited.”
Brown said word of the program tends to be easily spread throughout the facility.
“This is not an isolated program,” Brown said. “It’s quite obvious that education is what we emphasize, even from the choice of TV viewing that’s allowed. We choose what the inmates watch and everything educationally enriching –even down to the card games they play. So it permeates that if you come to the jail, we’re going to emphasize that you become engaged in educational activities.”
Jauhar Abraham, cofounder of the District-based nonprofit, Peaceaholics – which advocates on behalf of inmates – said the program was the brainchild of two inmates. One had been tutoring the other, he said. The tutor, being highly educated, explained to jail officials that he noticed how inmates had a hunger for education.
“, we were in a meeting with about starting a GED program, because so many of the guys were coming in uneducated,” Abraham recalled of the program’s start. “They couldn’t read or write and didn’t have a high school diploma.”
He said the program’s success is a reflection of its founders’ vision.
“When you come into the program you have to be serious about learning,” Abraham said. “And the people who work in the jail can’t do that as this is something that has to come from within.”
Said Abraham: “I don’t know who’s taking credit for the program now, but I know who started it and how big of an impact it has made on inmates.”