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Education Unit to Hold Recognition Ceremonies for Nearly 600 RI Inmates - Speakers to Include Legendary Entertainer Bill Cosby

CRANSTON, R.I. – June 5, 2008 – In keeping with its commitment to improving ex-offenders’ chances of success by providing educational opportunities during incarceration, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections will hold its annual recognition ceremonies in six of the state’s prison facilities during the week of June 9th, 2008. During these spring graduation ceremonies, the Education Unit will present over 650 inmates in six facilities with certificates in either GED, ABE, ESL, arts programs, or vocational training. An additional 693 inmates have completed CCRI classes during the 2007-08 academic year (some of whom have since been released), including four who will receive Associate’s degrees from CCRI.

Recognition ceremonies will be held according to the following schedule: Monday, June 9th, 8:30 a.m. John J. Moran Medium Security Facility 1 p.m. Minimum Security Tuesday, June 10th, 8:30 a.m. Dorothea Dix Women’s Minimum Security Facility 1 p.m. Gloria McDonald Women’s Awaiting Trial & Medium Security Facility Wednesday, June 11th, 1 p.m. Maximum Security Friday, June 13th, 8:30 a.m. Donald Price Medium Security Facility

Bill Cosby is well known to the world as Cliff Huxtable of The Cosby Show, but now he is taking his role as “America’s dad” to a whole new level. Over the last few years, Bill has traveled the country to spread the word about the violence and lack of education faced by minority youth in the United States. He has been on a mission to help people think about raising children with more integrity and has traveled from city to city, lecturing about education, parenting and responsibility. In October 2007, he released a book, Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors, which explains the causes of the problem and gives advice on how to address it.

Mr. Cosby responded in the affirmative to a letter of invitation by Chief of Information and Public Relations Tracey Poole last year to speak at one of the RIDOC’s spring 2008 graduations. Ms. Poole had read that he had spoken at a correctional facility in Connecticut. He will speak at the Moran Facility’s ceremony, which begins on Monday, June 9th, at 8:30 a.m.

Mr. Andres Idarraga, an ex offender and May 2008 graduate of Brown University, will speak in each of the male facilities, and will speak prior to Mr. Cosby at the Moran ceremony. Idarraga, who spent much of his 20’s in Rhode Island prisons after being convicted of selling cocaine, was paroled in 2004 upon his acceptance to the University of Rhode Island. He transferred to Brown University as a sophomore and will enroll at Yale Law School in the fall. Mr. Idarraga will speak about his background leading up to his incarceration, his experiences in prison, the impact education has had upon his life, and his plans for the future. He is one of the leaders behind the movement to restore voting rights to people who have been released from prison following felony convictions which resulted in Rhode Island becoming the first and only electorate to repeal a state law on felon disenfranchisement through the popular vote.

In a letter of recommendation for Mr. Idarraga to Yale Law School, Corrections Director A.T. Wall, himself an alumnus of that institution, wrote, “While he readily acknowledges the pain associated with imprisonment, he is remarkably unscathed by those years….He clearly feels that he has received a second chance at life and is eager to seize the opportunity.” Wall’s letter continues, “Andres realizes that his story is in some measure about redemption and is well aware that he can provide hope to others.”

The keynote speaker at the Dorothea Dix Women’s Minimum Security Facility graduation will be Rhode Island’s Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth H. Roberts. Ms. Roberts spoke at the Association of Women Executive in Corrections’ annual gathering in Newport last November, where she met Carole Dwyer, Warden of the Women’s Facilities. Warden Dwyer subsequently invited the Lieutenant Governor to tour the women’s facilities, which she did, speaking with a group of inmates in the Spectrum drug treatment program. When Warden Dwyer invited her to speak at the spring recognition ceremony, she gladly accepted.

CCRI President Raymond DiPasquale will be on hand to present three Associates degrees at the John J. Moran Medium Security facility to inmates Lance Dellay (highest honors, 3.77 GPA), Frank Moniz, and Douglas Azevedo. One former Moran inmate who was recently moved to Minimum Security, Gregory Tovmasian (highest honors, 3.82 GPA), will receive his degree at the Minimum Security ceremony.

Testing indicates that a good 22% of inmates are functionally illiterate when they come to prison and approximately 75% do not have a GED. Educational programming occurs in every facility within the Adult Correctional Institutions five days a week on a full-time, year-round basis and on evenings and weekends as well. The availability of educational programming may be limited for certain inmates due to restrictions on mixing certain populations, but everyone can receive instruction at least several times a week.

Each of the state’s eight prisons has designated classroom areas and libraries, which are available to all inmates as scheduling permits. Programs range from Adult Basic Education, English as a Second Language (ESL) Special Education/Title I, Inmate Literacy Program, GED classes and testing in English and Spanish, post secondary programs, and vocational training programs. The Education Unit also manages all reading libraries and law libraries within the facilities.

The RIDOC’s Education Unit will once again hold a seven-week summer school session and will be testing until late August. It is anticipated that approximately 130 inmates will have completed their GED requirements this academic year.

Last year, the RIDOC was presented with a $100,000 check (to go toward ESL, GED, and Spanish GED services for inmates) by Governor Donald Carcieri. It was included with 38 community-based agencies across the state to receive $9 million in grant support from the Rhode Island Department of Education. In addition, the RIDOC receives approximately $550,000 in federal money through the RIDE.

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