Education at heart of Superintendent Swain’s career

Shannon Swain, Superintendent of CDCR's Office of Correctional Education, is passionate about her office's mission. She also isn't shy about explaining why CDCR's educators are exceptional.

While education is a year-round endeavor at CDCR, August is recognized as National Back to School Month. To celebrate, Inside CDCR is catching up with various educators throughout the Department.

Meet Superintendent Shannon Swain, Office of Correctional Education

What path did you take to arrive at your current position?

Correctional Education Superintendent Shannon Swain smiling.Shannon Swain

I have been involved with Correctional Programming for 38 years. After managing a halfway house for people in county jail in Southern California, I moved north to teach in Contra Costa County jails.

I then assumed leadership in education for folks on parole — serving students computerized literacy opportunities and education for students with substance use disorders.

When I left as principal of that program, I spent some time as a consultant with the Ministry of Justice in Chile. I had the chance to spend a month training their prison wardens in effective adult learning strategies.

After I returned, I was appointed by Governor Brown as Deputy Superintendent, then Superintendent, of the Office of Correctional Education. I was reappointed by Governor Newsom.

Colleges expand education opportunities

What are some things that might surprise people to learn about education at CDCR?

I think it might surprise folks to learn that OCE serves all incarcerated individuals at every institution, through the Recreation/Physical Fitness Coaches, as well as our incredible legal and recreational libraries.

I think it might surprise folks to know that we collaborate with:

  • 20 community colleges
  • Four California State Universities
  • one University of California
  • and one private college.

Also, the only community college I know of being entirely inside a prison is at San Quentin.

We currently have over 15,000 students enrolled in college.

Additionally, our Career Technical Education programs all lead to national certifications. This allows CTE graduates to transition to high-paying, living wage careers upon their transition to their home communities.

Attitude goes a long way

You always have a positive attitude. What is it about correctional education that keeps you smiling?

I feel privileged – every single day – to serve students, patrons, staff, and others by providing the best correctional education system in the world.

The way our students are taking the risk to learn and grow inspires me, as do the incredible correctional professionals who model and mentor and share their gifts and talents.

This may sound hokey, however, I am a breast cancer survivor. I truly feel lucky to be alive, so every day is a gift for which I am so, so grateful.

I try hard to always assume positive intent, and perhaps it is my four children who taught me to separate the behavior from the person.

Finally, my faith helps a lot. When I leave my place of worship, the last thing I see as I drive out of the parking lot is "Let the Service Begin." So be it.

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