PrintEd Provides Hope For Jailhouse Printers --MichelsonJanuary 2009
What makes Phillips noteworthy, however, is the fact that he’s the first prison inmate in the country to be awarded PrintEd certification after recently passing the examination in offset press operations and, subsequently, the introduction to the graphic communications test. One major hurdle to overcome was getting the warden to allow Phillips to take the online standardized exam, since all prisoners are denied any Internet access. The warden eventually relented, though, providing that the online test—and Phillips’ Internet usage—was proctored under the strict supervision of Jeanette Donohew, lead teacher at the prison. A few other inmates at the correctional facility have since taken PrintEd exams. Certification achieved in this manner also places the examinee on a national registry for future job prospects.
(In addition to programs at several secondary and post-secondary schools, there are a total of 10 PrintEd-accredited prison training programs in the nation, all of which are administered by the Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation or GAERF.)
“Regardless of the length of their sentences, these inmates can’t go on every day without a sense of hope and purpose,” Donohew notes. “If and when prisoners are released, their hope, and ours, is that they’re prepared to be productive citizens. They already have a couple of strikes against them by having a felony record, so we want to help them get the credentials they need to hit the ground running once they leave prison.” She adds that several former inmates have found industry jobs, largely due to the career training received while incarcerated.
John Phillips’ classroom training and, now, certification also help him to be a better employee within the prison’s print shop, which is run by West Virginia Correctional Industries. Paid less than $1 per hour, inmate employees provide sheetfed printing for state parks and various agencies. The printing class can do jobs for non-profits such as local churches, Boy Scout groups, etc., in order to provide live work for the students. The Correctional Industries shop houses a newer, highly automated, two-color Sakurai and some other presses, as well as a range of prepress and finishing gear.
“Inmates have to actually apply and interview for the (print shop) jobs,” explains instructor Eric Dye, who took charge of the prison’s graphic communications program in July 2007. “John was hired because of his skills and qualifications coming out of our PrintEd program. He’s proud that, even at 41, he is continuing his education and training. The momentum is beginning to build, and we will have more and more students working toward this achievement. They’re really motivated.” Donohew adds that a partnership with the West Virginia University Institute of Technology will also allow prisoners to take college-level classes, and even earn a two-year associate’s degree in printing.
In 2003, the Northern Regional Jail and Correctional Facility became the first PrintEd-accredited correctional facility in the state of West Virginia, and the institution continues to raise the bar on how prison career training programs can—and should—operate. Studies have shown that educational programs create a more positive prison environment and can lead to lower rates of recidivism.
That’s a win-win proposition.