GED program returning to Lackawanna County Prison

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – The Lackawanna County prison has been in the headlines the last few months for all the wrong reasons but tonight its making news for something different.

After a plea from the public, commissioners are moving forward with plans to re-instate a GED program behind bars.

On Thursday night, county commissioners voted 2-1 to award a contract for the first GED program at the prison in seven years.

The previous one was canceled back in 2011 after funding dried up.

For the last year and a-half, Beth Ann Zero and the group NEPA Prison Advocates have been looking at ways to improve the Lackawanna County Prison.

One of the big things they’ve advocated for was the GED program to allow inmates to earn a general education diploma while locked up.

“There’s been a lot of negative around the prison, a lot of negative in the county, it’s so inspirational to finally see that our voice has been heard,” Beth Ann Zero said.

Commissioners voted to contract with the Outreach Center for Community Resources of Scranton to begin preparation and testing for up to 80 inmates.

Officials hope giving inmates the chance to get a GED will help them find work after leaving prison, making it less likely that they will commit another crime.

“It gives them an opportunity to accomplish something, do something with their time out there. A lot of people, they might not have come from a family that had the structure where someone said congratulations or great job!” Commissioner Pat O’Malley said.

Commissioner Laureen Cummings voted against the plan.

She questions its long-term cost and if it will help.

“Most of our inmates don’t stay longer than two weeks to 30 days so how much education can they get in that short period of time?” Commissioner Laureen Cummings said.

The program will cost about $155,000 per year with a start-up cost of about $11,000 this year.

That will come from an inmate canteen account, which is profit from items that prisoners buy, not taxpayer money.

For Beth Ann Zero, the program is a good first step and her group is already looking at other improvements that can be made.

“One of our members refers to it as peeling back the layers of an onion and we keep finding more and more,” Zero said.

A 2010 study of more than 1,800 inmates at the Lackawanna County prison found that 38-percent of them did not have a high school diploma.

The same survey found 76-percent of them were unemployed before going behind bars.

Each inmate who enters the program will get between ten and 12 hours of classroom instruction per week.

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