In February of 2012, the Florida Department of Corrections named Smart Horizons Career Online Education (SHCOE) as an official provider of online education for inmates in Florida prison facilities. The Florida Department of Corrections Online Campus program went live at the Madison Correctional Institution in April of 2012 and at Ocala’s Lowell Annex Correctional Institution in May of 2012. Enthusiasm on the part of inmates and staff members alike has been evident from the start of the program.
Since May 2012, a total of 59 inmates at the Madison and Lowell facilities have received their high school diplomas through the Internet-based program offered by SHCOE, the world’s first AdvancED/SACS accredited online school district. In addition to earning their diplomas, FLDOC Online Campus students also complete coursework for a credentialed career certificate in one of several high-demand employment areas.
Madison Correctional Institution’s Warden, J.T. Freeman, and Assistant Warden, Connice West, who have 63 years of combined experience directing institutions in Florida’s correctional system, have nothing but praise for SHCOE.
“The FLDOC Online High School Campus not only allows inmates to pick up where they left off with their education, it also provides them with the additional skills they’re going to need when they re-enter society—skills a lot of people struggle with,” Warden Freeman said. “There have always been fears and concerns about having computers in a prison setting, but SHCOE has the technology to address security issues. If you consider what’s happening in terms of the use of technology in society at large, it’s important that inmates be computer literate in order to get jobs upon their release.”
“This program has had the highest level of success for us here at Madison,” Assistant Warden West said. “This concept of Internet-based delivery has really taken off and I see it as the wave of the future. It has wide social possibilities. We anticipate having over a hundred graduates from this program by the end of the current fiscal year. The inmates I’ve talked to about the program tell me it’s much better than sitting in a classroom. They’re able to complete their high school diplomas and career certificates in a very reasonable length of time.”
Warden Freeman agreed with Assistant Warden West about the way SHCOE has brought “cutting-edge” elements to education at Madison Correctional Institution. Both noted that the FLDOC Online High School Campus prepares inmates for reentry into society at least as well as more traditional instructor-led approaches.
“Working on computers is a good way to get inmates acclimated to the outside world. They’re working at their own pace and learning so much more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic.”
According to Warden Freeman and Assistant Warden West, utilizing SHCOE’s Internet-based system also addresses issues pertaining to available resources.
“Part of the beauty of this program is that, at a time when we don’t have the resources and manpower to do what’s been done in the past, we are getting better results than ever,” Warden Freeman said. “The FLDOC Online High School Campus program is self-directed and can be done almost anywhere. I foresee the day when this program can be carried out in our housing facilities instead of only in learning labs. Instead of watching TV at night, the inmates can work on their courses.”
“If we’re looking to prepare these offenders for success upon release, we need to provide them with skills and habits that translate to the outside world,” Assistant Warden West said. “SHCOE is doing this for us and we only see the success of this program increasing from here.”