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ABE as a beacon of hope

prison setting


In Minnesota, a groundbreaking approach to rehabilitation and reintegration is emerging through Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs offered within the confines of local jails. These programs are proving to be a vital tool in breaking the cycle of incarceration by providing inmates with educational opportunities that extend far beyond their time behind bars.


Across Minnesota, ABE programs bring classrooms and instruction to learners while serving in correctional facilities. Metro North ABE teacher, Donna Escobedo, teaches at Anoka County Corrections and the Anoka Workhouse. 


“I really try to create a normal school experience for students,” said Escobedo. 


Instead of focusing solely on punitive measures, there is a growing recognition of the importance of addressing the root causes of criminal behavior, which often include a lack of education and limited job prospects. 


“I tell students that getting your GED is your first job, then the door will open for further opportunities, trade school or college,” added Escobedo. “Not everyone clicks with the program, but the ones that do work at improving their education and make great strides.”


Metro North ABE provides instruction in four correctional facilities within our consortium: Sherburne County Jail, Isanti County Jail, Anoka County Jail, and 
Anoka County Workhouse. One of the key advantages of offering ABE programs within jails is that it tackles the issue of recidivism head-on. Inmates who participate in education programs are significantly less likely to re-offend upon release. 


“I have four or five students getting their GED right now,” said Escobedo. “For anyone who goes through the program, there is a chance to come back to class and have their name up on a plaque. We often show students other talents, like drawings or videos they made.” 


By providing inmates with a chance to better themselves through education, these programs actively contribute to safer communities and reduce strain on the criminal justice system. 


The ABE programs also cater to a wide range of educational needs. Inmates have the chance to improve their literacy, numeracy, and language skills, ensuring they are better equipped to reintegrate into society upon release. Beyond the basics, many programs also offer vocational training, equipping inmates with practical skills that can lead to stable employment opportunities post-release.


In addition to academic instruction, Metro North ABE partners with Anoka County Job Training Center to implement the Integrated Reentry and Occupational Cohort (IROC) program, which is designed to prepare individuals under correctional supervision for career success. Individuals may be residing in the community or the Anoka County Workhouse, on court-ordered probation, or supervised release from prison. The goal is to assist individuals with their transition from correctional supervision to the community by preparing them for entry-level positions in two of our pathways: Class B Driver’s License and Welding.


Furthermore, ABE programs within jails foster a sense of hope and self-worth among inmates. Education has the power to transform lives, and by giving inmates the chance to learn, grow, and set positive goals for themselves, these programs instill a sense of purpose that can make a world of difference in their post-release lives.


The collaborative nature of these programs is also noteworthy. Many ABE programs in Minnesota jails are partnerships between correctional facilities, educational institutions, and community organizations. 


“I have to tell them while you are in adult education here, you can continue after this class,” Escobedo said. “There are ABE programs across the state. I often help students make connections to other ABE programs as they get close to the time when they get out.” This cross-sector collaboration not only ensures the quality of education but also helps to connect inmates with valuable community resources and support networks upon their release.


ABE programs provided within Minnesota jails are a beacon of hope for inmates seeking a second chance at life. By addressing educational gaps and providing vocational skills, these programs empower inmates to break free from the cycle of incarceration and build brighter futures. As this approach gains momentum, it has the potential to reshape the landscape of criminal justice in the state, emphasizing rehabilitation, education, and successful reintegration.


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