Blair County Prison warden wants to offer GED tests

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The Blair County Prison might be inching closer to being able to again offer inmates the opportunity to take the General Educational Development tests.

Blair inmates have not been able to take the five exams to measure whether someone has the knowledge equivalent to that of a high school graduate since January because the tests are only being offered online.

Warden Michael M. Johnston said Thursday that in his more than 30 years at the prison, the GED program has “done well” and “flourished.”

Of all the programs that the prison offers, the GED program that provides education to inmates without a high school diploma has been the most “rock solid,” Johnston said Thursday.

Until recently, there wasn’t even a GED testing center in Blair County. The nearest was located at Saint Francis University in Loretto.

But now Altoona Area High School has become an approved testing center, Principal Patty Burlingame said.

That was confirmed Thursday by school district spokeswoman Paula Foreman, who said a language lab in the district’s A Building will be used to administer the tests.

The first tests were conducted there last weekend, Burlingame said.

Certification as a testing center was a lengthy process, she said.

The next step in the process will be to become a certified mobile testing center, which means having the ability to provide the equipment for the test at the prison.

Burlingame said a meeting will be held in the next week to discuss certification as a mobile testing program.

One of the rumors at the prison board’s meeting was that the Stevens School, an adult education center in the city, would also become a testing site.

The school officials said that is not the case.

Students from Stevens will go to the high school center to take the GED tests.

Sandy Becker, a school district employee, has been named as supervisor for the GED program.

On Thursday, Dr. Carroll P. Osgood, asked the prison board what was being done to restore the GED program for the inmates.

Osgood said it is very difficult for inmates to get a job when released if they don’t have at least a GED education.

“Everybody is concerned,” said Sheriff Mitchell Cooper, who chairs the prison board.

Abbie L. Tate, the prison’s treatment supervisor, said a new program for inmates will have to be put together from scratch.

A few months ago, prison officials asked Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron to lead the effort to reinstate the GED program. Milliron was not at Thursday’s meeting.

Johnston fully endorsed the GED effort, pointing out that other programs have their ups and downs. He said Alcoholics Anonymous may have substantial inmate support one month but not so much participation the next.

But GED has always been popular and often led to degrees for maybe 15 inmates a year, he added.

Johnston said as of last month, 27 percent of the inmates at the county prison had no high school or GED degrees.

He said 22 percent had their GEDs and 46 percent had high school diplomas. Some inmates had post-secondary degrees.

“We’ve had a very good GED program in 30 years,” he said.

On Thursday, the prison was housing 348 individuals.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.