Teaching in Prison

By Secret Teacher /  Image courtesy

No bell marks the start of our day. Instead, a slow drip-feed of men in grey tracksuits amble their way into classes. Sometimes 10 sit in front of me, aged 21 up to 60 or 70. They are the disaffected and the despicable. They are the proud, the defensive and the downright disagreeable; funnelled into education during their first days inside, where they complete assessments in literacy and numeracy. Their scores determine their placement into a classroom, and their subsequent opportunities for work.

I didn’t know you could teach in prison until I volunteered at a rehab centre and someone there had learned to read in jail. It was a revelation to me after I’d always sworn that I would never teach, prompted in part by my primary teacher mother: never me, never a teacher. But something clicked and I knew that this was where I would end up. This was my niche; my place to make a difference.

The most challenging part of working with offenders is the disparity between students in the classroom – the range of ages, their level of literacy and their attitude to learning. Often their only common ground is their criminality. Some learners arrive spoiling for a fight, desperate to avoid the torture of school all over again, determined to prove themselves. Behaviour is an issue, with many refusing to work. Challenging inappropriate language is a constant battle when, for some, the f-word is used in every sentence.

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Former Detainee Alleges Unconstitutional Conditions at Illinois Jail, Accepts $7,501 Judgment

By Prison Legal News

On April 24, 2013, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a former pretrial detainee at the Edgar County Jail (ECJ) in Illinois stated a claim concerning unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the facility. The appellate court also affirmed the dismissal of a claim alleging deliberate indifference to the detainee’s medical needs.

Over a period of two-and-a-half years, Richard D. Budd served three stints at ECJ as a pretrial detainee. He initially spent 45 days at the jail following a 2009 arrest. During that time he was confined with eight other detainees in an area of the facility intended for three; he had to sleep on the floor alongside broken windows and damaged toilets.

After another arrest two years later, Budd was placed in a section of the ECJ where overcrowded conditions again forced him and other prisoners to sleep on the floor amid water from a shower leak. The cells had broken windows, exposed wiring, extensive rust, sinks without running water, toilets covered in mold and spider webs, and a broken heating system. ECJ staff did not provide prisoners with cleaning supplies.

Four months later, Budd was again arrested and had to sleep on the floor in an ECJ cellblock. The cell’s vents were blocked, the heating and air conditioning systems did not work, and detainees were denied recreation. While living in these conditions, something scratched or bit Budd’s leg, resulting in an infection and swelling. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment after contacting the Sheriff.

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