Georgia state prison inmates may have a better chance of passing the GED exam than students pursuing the certificate outside prison walls.
“We stress it. We really do stress it,” said Dale Herndon, warden at Forest Hays State Prison in Chattooga County. “It’s something to achieve, something to strive for.”
Information from the Georgia Department of Corrections shows 72 percent of prisoners who take the general educational development test pass.
That compares with 63 percent passing at the state level and 68 percent nationwide in 2006, the most recent figures available.
Only 30 percent of Georgia prison inmates have a GED certificate or high school diploma, according to a Department of Corrections release.
While they may not come into the prison system with an education, many leave with one, officials said.
“This is one thing in prison they can do for themselves,” said Warden James Lanier with Walker State Prison in Walker County. “It’s something they can take with them the rest of their lives.”
Studies show that those who study and complete the GED process have a greater chance of staying out of prison when they are released, according to the Department of Corrections.
“Inmates who participated in education programs while incarcerated showed lower rates of recidivism after three years, a 29 percent reduction,” according to a department news release.
Mr. Lanier admitted there might be fewer distractions for prisoners, which could contribute to better success on the exam. He said, though, that many inmates work full-time jobs while in prison and take on GED studies in addition to that.
GED classes in prison can offer offenders a second chance at an education, prison officials said.
“The first thing I learned in the first six months is there are some really smart guys in prison,” said Mark McConnell, a seventh-year GED instructor at Walker State Prison.
Mr. McConnell said his students may have had problems in the home, school system or community that kept them from getting an education.
Prison students can have that “light comes on moment,” he said.
“In some cases, yes, I’ve seen men come in and realize that they can accomplish something,” Mr. McConnell said.
Mr. Lanier said the drive and focus required to earn a GED certificate helps with behavior in prison, too.
“You definitely see that; they’re preoccupied with something that they can accomplish. It gives them something to concentrate on,” the warden said.
That accomplishment can give inmates standing not only in jobs but also with loved ones on the outside.
“It’s a lot easier for them to tell their children to stay in class if they have their GED,” Mr. Lanier said.
For many the GED is a step toward additional vocational training or even college courses once they leave the prison system, he said.
“When you get out of prison you’re pretty much in the same boat as when you came into prison. Unless you’ve got a strong family influence, it’s going to be hard to survive out there,” Mr. Lanier said.
“Without a GED there’s not much more they can do than a minimum wage-type job,” he said.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...