Reprinted with permission of the Imperial Valley Press

ivpress gaylla_award_photo_2015
Imperial County Sheriff's Office Lt. Robert Cortez, Cpl. Maribel Almodovar, Sheriff Raymond Loera, Gaylla Finnell, Chief Jamie Clayton, Undersheriff Fred Miramontes and Cpl. Aaron Arreola pose for a photo. Finnell won the American Jail Association's Volunteer of the Year Award for her work with the Imperial County jail. COURTESY PHOTO

Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2015 12:40 am

A volunteer with the Imperial County jail has been chosen at the 2015 volunteer of the year for the American Jail Association for her countless hours spent working with inmates in an effort to help reduce recidivism.

Imperial County Sheriff Ray Loera nominated Gaylla Finnell for the award for her extensive work at the jail and with its Inside/Out Program, in which qualifying inmates at the jail study alongside students at Imperial Valley College.

"Gaylla and the instructor have done a great job to ensure an optimal learning environment in spite of being riddled with security issues and concerns. Without Gaylla's presence and her efforts, the corrections bureau would not be successful in this venture," Loera said. "She has made our programming something to be emulated by others."

Finnell is pursuing an educational doctorate degree with an emphasis in postsecondary education at San Diego State University and is completing her internship with the Sheriff's Office Corrections Bureau.

She started her internship in November 2013 with the goal of trying to find out how Imperial Valley College "could better serve our incarcerated population and provide them with educational services," she said.

Providing inmates with access to education is critical since "education is the most effective way to reducing recidivism," Finnell explained.

As part of her internship, Finnell worked with staff to develop the Inside/Out Program following the model that universities and prisons have been using across the nation. Imperial County is the first sheriff's office in the country to host college courses under the Inside/Out philosophy, and other communities are looking at how it works here so they can possibly implement it as well.

After receiving permission from the sheriff to do the program, Finnell was assigned to the "AB 109 team" which works on implementing realignment at the county jail. Finnell has spent more than 1,000 hours at the jail, and said the team has "become my second family."

"I'm very impressed with the work that our sheriff's office does and their commitment to not only providing public safety and making sure the offenders are completing their sentences but they are also concerned with doing what they can so that when they leave the facility they are better-prepared," Finnell said.