FORSYTH COUNTY — A local college, an adult education program, the Georgia Department of Corrections and a former Forsyth County school superintendent are about to begin an education initiative to help felony offenders earn something vital to their success and exit from the criminal justice system — a high school diploma.
Lanier Technical College has joined with the Cumming Probation Office to offer probationers GED prep classes, which will begin with a pre-test in February.
“This is helping to get them completed with that basic level of education, which immediately makes them more employable,” said Buster Evans, assistant commissioner of education at the corrections department. “It helps them accomplish a goal. Often, it helps them get back on track by realizing, ‘I can be successful.’”
Evans became Forsyth County’s superintendent in 2008 before taking his new post in July.
He said the benefits of this program spread throughout the county and do not just affect those taking classes.
“It increases the education level in Forsyth,” Evans said. “Forsyth has one of the highest education levels in Georgia, and it has one of the lowest crime rates in the state, so we believe that education goes hand in hand with that same statistic.
“We’re creating a safer community as we have a more educated population. Ultimately, the goal is they do not go on to continue their involvement in the criminal justice system.”
Evans said of the some 760 people under probation supervision from the Cumming Probation Office, which serves the whole county, about 120 have not completed high school.
“Statistically, that’s a little higher than the general high school drop-out rate would be, but we would expect that,” he said.
The plan is to start with 40-50 of those probationers who “have most recently been in school but didn’t complete or those who report the highest grade level completed.”
Probationers under “active supervision” have all committed felonies.
Lanier Tech will conduct the pre-test to determine each person’s “readiness level.” Those who may need more one-on-one instruction or who may be in the program longer will take classes at Lanier Tech.
Others will be placed in an accelerated program, reporting for class twice a week for three hours at a time.
The accelerated program will be conducted under the supervision of Brad Willis, chief probation officer for the local probation office. Those in this tier of the program will also be given about three hours of homework each week.
Literacy Forsyth, a nonprofit that helps adults obtain GEDs, is providing books and a teacher through the end of June.
Willis said the chance of someone committing a second crime is 56 percent without receiving correctional or vocational education. That chance drops to 43 percent with an education.
“As crime increases, the economy decreases,” he said. “For every $1 we spend on correctional education, we save $5 on recidivism [a second incarceration or further involvement in the criminal justice system]. For every $1 spent on vocational education, that’s $12 saved on recidivism.”
Taking the GED exam costs $160, which Willis said may be offset with available funds on a case-by-case basis.
Involved partners set a goal for 20 probationers to have their GEDs by the end of the year, which to Willis is an optimistic number. He said they intend to continue the program until it works, as each person will take the exam when they’re ready.
“If after eight or 10 months, if that’s what we need,” he said, “we’ll get there.”