INTERVIEW: Counseling Coordinator Of A College For The Incarcerated

A view from outside Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka, Alabama. Photo by Dan Carsen.

A view from outside Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka, Alabama. Photo by Dan Carsen.

WETUMPKA, Ala. – J.F. Ingram State is a unique part of Alabama’s two-year college system because one hundred percent of its students are incarcerated. Its new pilot program at Julia Tutwiler Prison focuses on life skills, not just vocational training. As part of WBHM-Birmingham’s prison-reporting partnership with Alabama Media Group’s Investigative Journalism Lab, our Dan Carsen spoke with Ingram State counseling coordinator Rick Vest outside Ingram’s Tutwiler campus. Vest says learning job skills isn’t enough:

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE FIVE-MINUTE ON-AIR INTERVIEW:

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CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE EXTENDED 11-MINUTE INTERVIEW:

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Below is a subject index with time pegs for the extended interview:

0:00 – A “point through the fence” tour, with explanation.

0:30 – Vest says J.F. Ingram Technical College is unique in the nation.

0:50 – A short interruption as counseling interns exit the North Gate.

1:12 – Vest says Ingram’s new president has a vision.

1:45 – A research-based program.

2:03 – Vest and his colleagues had hoped to have a bigger program running by now, but funding has been an issue (a recurring theme throughout the interview).

2:45 – Ingram is not reinventing the wheel, based on a large body of research, says Vest.

2:53 – There’s a big push to decrease recidivism, and there are many reasons for that….

3:50 – One example of studies that show education can decrease recidivism significantly.

4:50 – Interns work for free as part of their education.

6:40 – Carsen asks Vest if the work is a “calling.”

7:10 – Vest says most people’s idea of inmates is not accurate.

7:32 – “95 percent of the people in prison will get out. That is a fact.”

7:57 – “We’re teaching them to [live in mainstream society].” They say, “I just want to have a normal life … but they’re scared that they can’t get that.”

8:53 – The per-person cost of incarceration in Alabama is a little more than half the national average.

9:23 – Vest explains how preventing recidivism saves money — it’s not just the up-front costs (a recurring theme throughout the interview — listen starting at 10:03 also).

9:45 – Carsen asks Vest what he would say to those who think we shouldn’t spend any extra money on people who’ve already broken the law.

10:41 – If incarceration were an epidemic, but we had a vaccine….

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