It may have taken decades for one inmate at the Lassen County Jail to obtain his high school diploma, but through the adult education program available, he now has plans for his future he didn’t think were possible before.
Robert Waltz is the 50th graduate from the Lassen County Jail High School.
To recognize his achievement and the milestone number, partnering organizations including the Lassen County Office of Education, program teachers and organizers, Lassen Community College, the Lassen County Board of Supervisors and custody staff joined the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office for an afternoon of celebration and cake Thursday, Oct. 17.
“I should’ve graduate 40 years ago,” Waltz noted, adding he is looking forward to his future endeavors. “It opens up the college door for me now. It’s never too late to finish your education.”
The high school program at the jail is made available through funding from the state through the Lassen Modoc Adult Education Consortium.
“One of the best things we can do for people is help them get a high school diploma,” Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon said during the celebration.
The program at the jail started about two years ago in November 2017, and has since allowed 51 inmates to receive their diplomas. Another graduate finished their credits the morning of the Oct. 17 celebration.
“In two years we’ve had 50 graduates. It’s amazing,” Correctional Program Coordinator Jennifer Mohr said. “We’ve been very blessed, very fortunate we’ve been able to get in with this grant.”
The annual grant provided $100,000 for the first year and $70,000 for the second.
Lassen County Superintendent of School Patti Gunderson noted she is pushing for the next round to have the grant be every two years.
The jail program has a computer-based curriculum. Inmates have to achieve the minimum number of credits, as set in AB-169, in order to earn their high school diplomas.
According to Ann Weaver, incarcerated adult education coordinator, the inmates do their work in the classroom or back in their cells. About one-third of the inmates come in to the jail without a high school diploma, she said.
The students range in age from 19 to 56.
The grant has also been able to fund programs including a computer operation program, the “getting it right” re-entry program, anger management program and a culinary arts program.
In the future, the program hopes to add a welding course.
According to Mohr, violence in the jail has reduced, and there is a waiting list for some programs.
“It’s been pretty awesome,” Mohr said.
Waltz said it took him about six weeks to earn his diploma through the jail high school and encouraged others to take advantage of the program.
“Make the best out of a bad situation,” he said.