Program to get offenders in the classroom canceled before it begins

(Source: MGN)
Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 12:20 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CADDO PARISH, La. (KSLA) - The Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office announced Monday, March 14 that the Mister Coffee Bean program was canceled before it started.

As part of the the program, Black low-level, non-violent offenders undergo a strict selection process. Upon completion of their bachelor’s degree in elementary education and passage of the teacher certification exams, the offenders are placed “in the most at-risk elementary schools in their state to serve as educators and role models for our most at-risk youth,” according to the website.

This program began in Louisiana in 2021, with the help of the Louisiana Department of Corrections. The purpose was to identify incarcerated Black men with felonies, already permitted under state law to be a teacher, and help them become teachers in the most at-risk, underperforming, predominantly Black elementary schools where the crime rates are the highest in Louisiana.

To help these men with re-entry after prison, the foundation was going to provide them with a used vehicle, a wardrobe to teach in, a place to live for two years and their first two years of student teacher salary so they could voluntarily teach in one of the at-risk elementary schools. This program is privately funded, at no cost to the taxpayers.

According to the Louisiana Department of Corrections, more than 26,000 people are incarcerated. More than 95% of them are men, and nearly 66% are Black.

Louisiana Department of Corrections statistics
Louisiana Department of Corrections statistics(KSLA)

In a Facebook post, Sheriff Steve Prator made it clear he did not support the program, calling it an “experimental initiative.” He was a part of the efforts to get the program canceled throughout the state.

“I had to do all I could to put a stop to something that would have placed young children at risk,” the sheriff is quoted as saying in the post.

He goes on to say, “I’m all for reducing recidivism. In fact, we have helped more than 6,000 inmates graduate from our re-entry program. But our children are too precious to be part of an experimental initiative. Protecting our children must remain a priority.”

Dr. Tracy Andrus is the director of The Lee P. Brown Criminal Justice Institute at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas and the executive director of the Tracy Andrus Foundation. He served three years in prison on a 57-year sentence.

“After my release from prison [in 1994], I went to school to earn my associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and my Ph.D.,” he said.

Andrus says he’s disappointed to hear about the program’s cancellation.

“What you are really saying by axing that program is that you don’t really believe ex-offenders can change,” he said.

He also noted the strict selection process and the fact that only low-level, non-violent offenders are allowed to take part.

“Shreveport knows; we have a problem, a serious problem,” Dr. Andrus said. “A program that would take low-level offenders out of the system and educate them and put them in classrooms with at-risk youth, I know that Black kids respond differently to Black males.”

Founder of the program, Damon West, told KSLA in an email that Caddo Parish had not been discussed as the target location for the program. He also said the program would have been a “common sense” solution to societal problems, like re-entry, pre-interventions for children in Louisiana’s highest crime areas, and addressing the teacher shortage.

“What we offered was a common sense solution to myriad societal problems:

1) Reentry and second chances for men who have earned it.

2) Pre-interventions for the children who need it most, in Louisiana’s highest crime areas.

3) Addressing the teacher shortage by providing teachers qualified under state law, free of charge. in the places where the teacher shortage will continue to worsen.

It’s unfortunate, especially with the teacher shortage there, that this program will not be coming to Louisiana.

We appreciate all that Governor Edwards, the Louisiana Department of Corrections and so many other groups did to launch this program. Even though it will not be benefiting Louisiana, it showed great vision on their parts.”

Damon West

“What you are really saying by axing that program is that you don’t really believe ex-offenders can change,” said Andrus.

West says he is confident another state will pick up the program. Meanwhile, Prator said he is excited that the effort paid off to stop the program in Louisiana.

“We’re for re-entry; we’re for second chances. But I believe our kids are too valuable to take a chance with,” said Prator.

Copyright 2022 KSLA. All rights reserved.