Teaching college students in classrooms at Eastern New Mexico University is old school to Instructor of Social Work Patricia Saylor.
Behind bars? Not so much.
These days, Saylor is alternating her instruction time between ENMU and at Roosevelt County Detention Center as part of a new program at the jail.
Sgt. Clay Layher of the detention center decided to begin the program for teaching a parenting course to inmates after recently attending a New Mexico Association of Counties Jail Affiliate Conference. There, he said, speakers encouraged New Mexico county jail officials to begin using such programs.
“The reasoning for this is the kids of incarcerated persons tend to be emotionally distraught,” Layher said. “When they get to see their parents, the anger and the fear these children have is lessened.”
Layher sent an email bulletin out asking anyone who would like to be involved to contact him and Saylor came calling, offering her services for free, because the program had no funding.
Layher said being able to visit their parents provides children with more emotional stability. He said the classes teach important parenting skills, enabling parents to interact with their children on a more productive level.
“From what I’ve seen of these classes, they really force the people involved to look inward and say what would my kid want to see and what would they not want to see,” he said.
Saylor said the program, which started March 22, is not just beneficial to the detention center but to her and the university because social work majors must gain hands-on experience to graduate.
“It broadens their social work knowledge base,” Saylor said. “Anyone who comes out of this social work program knows that social work began with helping those without a voice and that’s what we are trying to do with this program is give this group of people an appropriate voice with parenting.”
Saylor said she has had only three class periods for each of her three groups, but she believes there are very ambitious and enthusiastic students at the detention center.
“They exhibit really good positive appropriate behavior in class,” Saylor said. “They’re all very attentive, they ask questions and they’re intelligent. I see them all receiving certificates of completion.”
Saylor said the incentive for incarcerated parents to take the class is they must participate to get visitation with their children and she said this incentive seems to be enough.
“They’re not just up there wasting an hour every day. They’re interacting, participating in class, doing the work,” Layher said. “Many of them are enthusiastic and they want to be better parents.”
Layher said he hopes to bring more life skill courses to the detention center. He said the idea behind such classes is to break the cycle of incarceration and re-incarceration by helping detention center residents learn life skills which can make them productive members of society. ENMU faculty have offered help to Saylor for future classes.
“If we can keep them from getting back into the justice system, it will benefit everyone as a whole,” Layher said. “Hopefully, we can help people turn their lives around.”