The University of La Verne has always been dedicated to community service, and its long ties to the Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in nearby Chino has been an excellent example of this.
The largest juvenile detention center in the state, Stark has housed the Educational Programs in the Correctional Institutions, started by the University of La Verne, since 1972.
This program allows young men who have graduated high school or have recieved their G.E.D. to enroll in college classes, taught by professors from the University of La Verne.
“We save California upwards of a million dollars a year,” said David Werner, associate professor of English.
Werner, who has been teaching at the facility for 33 years, has taught multiple classes, including Literature of Incarceration and Men’s Issues, two classes based on his own publications.
The program is not disappearing, though it will move from the local facility to Norwalk, to the Southern Youth Correctional Reception Center and Clinic. The Norwalk-based program is due to open in its new location within the next six months, after a new contract has been drafted, Werner said.
The Stark facility closed as a youth facility to accommodate the high population at the California Institute for Men, the men’s prison in Chino. The program greatly impacts the lives of the students. The success rate, or the number of inmates in the program leaving the institution and never returning, is 80 percent, compared to California prisons as a whole, which have 70 percent to 75 percent recidivism rates, Werner said.
“The EPIC put me in the right direction, as well as other students who wouldn’t have had a shot,” said Walter Hsiao, former student of the program and ULCA graduate cum laude with honors.
“I was hanging out with bad people, and I probably would’ve gone back to that lifestyle,” said Fredrick, a former Stark inmate who asked that only his first name be used, and also a UCLA graduate. “The program provided different open doors.”
Teachers from outside the institution provide a slice of the outside world that the inmates would not have otherwise.
“They look forward to it because it breaks from the routine,” said Jason Neidleman, associate professor of political science and a former teacher at Stark.
Many inmates in the facility had never had a formal higher education, and the EPIC program teaches students how to discuss, write, and eventually move on to other colleges and universities in the future, outside of Stark.
“One class involved a lot of writing, and it helped me to grow, Fredrick said. “I found out that I’m a good writer.”
The EPIC program, unlike other programs that have been implemented in youth correctional facilities, has never been sponsored by federal Pell grants. Therefore, the program has been able to continue with help from ULV and dedication from faculty.
“I really like these guys,” Werner said. “You want to make a difference, the responsibility you take on is enormous. You watch people’s lives change all the time.”
The program also allows inmates to interact with other like-minded individuals, who are trying to move on and apply themselves, regardless of how they looked.
“I had a lot of friends in the program,” Hsiao, who entered the EPIC program in 1999, said. “We didn’t care about racial ties or affiliations.”
Inmates who finish the program receive their associate’s degree, and participate in a graduation.
The program is beneficial to both the students and the teachers.
“We are exposed to a radically different way of living, and they benefit from exposure of someone who loves to teach,” said Neidleman, who taught introduction to philosophy at Stark.
Inmates who were at the Stark facility have been transferred to the Norwalk facility.
Carly Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.