Inmates Complete College Composition Course

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Professor John Pickett (first row, center) poses with his English 111 students on their last day of class.
Professor John Pickett (first row, center) poses with his English 111 students on their last day of class.

Since the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) launched their Open Roads Partnership in 2012, dozens of inmates have successfully completed college classes taught by NOVA professors inside the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center.

Most recently nine student-inmates completed English 111, a freshman-level college composition course that met three times a week for eight weeks over the summer. Students improved their critical thinking as they learned about the writing process and studied expository and argumentative writing. As part of the course requirements, they prepared different types of essays including a final argument essay which explored challenging topics of their own choosing, such as euthanasia, fuel regulation, and the role of the Confederate flag. At the last class meeting, each student discussed his final essay and answered questions from his classmates and the professor.

Although it was Professor John Pickett’s first time teaching in the jail, he found it to be a “fantastic” experience with students who were “on par with freshmen” in his on-campus courses. Professor Pickett said the students responded well to feedback he offered on their assignments, and both he and the students saw “improvements in their writing” throughout the course. He added that the students were very engaged and did a “great job.”

Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, who earned his associate degree from NOVA, and Dr. Jim McClellan, Dean of the Liberal Arts Division at the Alexandria campus, are both committed to ensuring that inmates have access to educational opportunities. In addition to this summer’s English class, inmates in the Open Roads program have taken courses in business communication, psychology, history, and student development, all standard courses offered in the Virginia community college system.