SC inmates set record earning educational credentials

COLUMBIA, SC (DOC) - The SC Department of Corrections Thursday announced that inmates earned a record number of educational credentials through Palmetto Unified School District in 2010, including the highest number of vocational certifications in the prison school district's history.

In all, 2,423 vocational certificates were awarded, including carpentry, small engine repair, block and brick masonry, vehicle maintenance and welding, among others.

"More than 90 percent of the individuals incarcerated in the state system will one day return to society, and 60 percent of them don't have a high school education," said Dr. Randy Reagan, Superintendent of Palmetto Unified School District, or PUSD.  "Sending them out into the world with a skill makes them more employable and less likely to return to prison. I am proud of our vocational accomplishments, especially when you consider that we're breaking records with fewer staff and for less money."

PUSD was created by the state Legislature in 1981 to teach uneducated men and women incarcerated in South Carolina. The school district has nine high schools located in prisons across the state. There are 28 state-run prisons in South Carolina, and about 24,000 inmates.

The previous high mark for inmate vocational completions was 2001, when 2,072 inmates obtained certification.

The increase in credentials came with fewer teachers and less money as well, officials said. In 2001, the school district employed 177 people and awarded 17 educational credentials for every one teacher.  In 2010, PUSD employed 70 teachers and awarded 85 educational credentials per teacher.

The increase in productivity represents millions in personnel cost savings for taxpayers, corrections officials said.

Inmates who complete a vocational course receive a certificate they can present to employers. In addition, some inmates who complete vocational courses leave prison already licensed in certain trades and familiar with industry standards and qualifications.

In addition to vocational certificates, 1,921 inmates earned WorkKeys certificates, the most since Palmetto Unified started administering the test in 2007. WorkKeys measures an individual's math, reading and reasoning skills and businesses nationwide use the certificate to select qualified candidates.

Also in 2010, 1,089 inmates earned General Equivalency Diplomas, the most since 2005 when 1,106 inmates earned a GED.

SCDC Director Jon Ozmint offered his assessment and congratulations.

"By focusing on measurable and objective outcomes and goals over the last seven years, we have set records for educational success even while we have been forced to cut our educational staff by more than half. I am proud of Dr. Reagan and his folks. They have proven that more accountability, not more money, is often the best path forward," he said.