July 23, 2024

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UAA Automotive and Diesel professors go to prison

3 min read

Inmate working on vehicle for Intro to Auto course. Photo courtesy of Palmer Correctional Facility.

UAA’s Automotive and Diesel department held a three week class, introduction to automotive technology, for prisoners at the Palmer Correctional Facility in May.

Automotive and Diesel Director Darrin Marshall spoke with The Northern Light about the program. 

Marshall said that the Department of Corrections reached out to UAA to provide prisoners with hands-on learning experiences.

Marshall said the entire Automotive and Diesel department took part in the formation of the unique teaching experience for 11 minimum security prisoners, with the intention to “give them the tools they need to be a success.”

The classes were held five days a week, six and a half hours a day for three weeks.

Inmate working on vehicle at Palmer Correctional Facility. Photo courtesy of Palmer Correctional Facility.

Marshall said the class provided some of the prisoners with a feeling of competency and a taste of what it is like to be in the automotive industry. 

“I feel that they want an avenue to be a success when their sentence is over. I think the majority of them are looking at this as ‘is this a trade that I can be a success in and could I get started in this trade?’ and that has made them very eager,” said Marshall. 

Marshall also said that the captive audience has “eaten up” everything that the department had planned to teach – so much so that professors had to travel between UAA and the facility to provide more learning equipment. 

The prisoner’s retention of the material led Marshall and other professors to lean into more advanced automotive techniques.

Marshall said the department began teaching how to fix central vehicle axles, rear differential problems and advanced electrical issues. 

Those who participated throughout the class’ duration will receive a certification of completion and three credits toward an automotive degree at UAA. Upon registration, students will not have to complete the introduction to automotive technology class as they had already completed the class at the Palmer Correctional Facility.

A few of the prisoners talked to Marshall about their intentions after finishing their sentence. Marshall said that the curiosity of multiple prisoners about admittance into the Automotive and Diesel program left him to believe UAA and other UA universities may have new students in the coming years.

Marshall said that UAA’s relationship with the Department of Corrections is in its infancy but the potential for another class seems hopeful. 

According to an email from Department of Corrections’ criminal justice planner Kris Black, “The Introduction to Automotive course at Palmer Minimum goes beyond teaching car repair; it’s about building futures and enhancing public safety. Reentering society from prison can be daunting, but this course offers a beacon of hope, equipping inmates with the skills they need to succeed.”

In an interview with The Northern Light, Black said surveys were given to both instructors and students before and after the class to evaluate the consensus on the automotive instructing experience. 

The survey before the beginning of the course showed that instructor expectations were neutral when addressing concerns of safety, enjoyment and educational relationships between students and instructors. 

The survey after the course revealed that what concerns the instructors did have were mitigated upon beginning the class. The survey showed that both instructors and students rated the experience very positively – with some suggesting another class be held in the future.

Black said the program “stands as a testament to the profound impact of second chances and the value of investing in the futures of all individuals, regardless of their past.”

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