Special Report: Jailhouse Grads

Special Report: Jailhouse Grads

11 February 2010

published by kdrv.com

USA —  More inmates are getting an education behind bars in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Research shows that inmates who complete an education or treatment program in a correctional facility are half as likely to come back to jail.

John Baker has been in and out of the Josephine County Jail many times.

“The time’s really making an impact because I’m older now. I don’t think I’m indestructible. I’m not trying to fight the system. I’m trying to benefit, get something out. I’m getting to the point now if I don’t get going on my life, I’m never going to have one,” Josephine County Inmate John Baker said.

Baker says this new drive is coming from the classroom.

“I’ve got a high school diploma, but I graduated back in ’79, so I wanted to brush up on my skills on that,” Baker said.

“A lot of people come in here and didn’t finish school, they have no skills, many of them have never had a job, so this gives them a start,” Josephine County Jail Commander Sergeant Vicki Smith said.

Smith says in the past, education programs have not been popular. Now that the jail increased its capacity by 35 beds last November, things have changed.

“When we had a lower cap, many people didn’t qualify, so we were keeping the most violent, the most threatening individuals in jail, and of course they can’t go to GED. So that brought our numbers down, but now that we’re taking these misdemeanors again, there will be more people that qualify,” Smith said.

In 2009 about 30-percent of the inmates were repeat offenders. Repeat offenders fill up jails across the region, often forcing sheriffs to release inmates early. It’s a major reason why the Siskiyou County Jail decided to implement a jail education program last summer.

“I think it’s going to help… I don’t think we’re gonna solve the problem. We’re not going to get to 100 percent of these people, but the ones that do have an interest in it, we are going to succeed,” said Captain Jim Betts with the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office.

Allison Giannin teaches a wide variety of classes to inmates inside jail. Low risk inmates can enroll in parenting classes, GED prep classes or a high school diploma completion program. One of Giannin’s former students is Nancy, who took a parenting class in jail. She says it taught her much more than just how to communicate better with her kids and nephew.

“Oh absolutely, because you can apply some of those things that you learned in that class to yourself. It was also about self nurturing,” Former Inmate Nancy said.

Nancy was released in September. Since then she has been volunteering at the Mt. Shasta Community Resource Center. She says the classes she took behind bars helped prepare her for this transition.

“Well at first I was nervous, because I hadn’t been out in the work field in a few years. But, I picked up kind of where I left off, and my skills are still there,” Nancy said.

“We provide vocational, life skills, and treatment groups. Our actual classes what we would consider classroom classes entail employment related services,” Jackson County Jail Program Manager Eric Guyer said.

In Jackson County the correction system works differently.

Many local offenders are sentenced to complete their sanction at the Community Justice Transition Center rather than the jail. The transition center near Talent opened in 2005. Here offenders are called clients rather than inmates.

“By the time they are here, they’re in a non-locked setting, but they are considered a high risk to re-offend, and that’s why we’re trying to focus our efforts on these people,” Guyer said.

Research shows that people who are given treatment and education in a correctional facility are half as likely to commit a crime again.

In this life skills class, clients learn about criminal thinking, the basics of parenting and how to better manage their anger. Many clients also have the opportunity to become trained and certified as a wildland firefighter, flagger or even get their food handler’s card.

“Our program has increased in scope and sophistication. The number of inmates we’ve reached has increased each year, and we’re also working more with the releasing facilities when folks come back to our community from a prison stay,” Guyer said.

Though there is no hard data to see how successful the program is, Guyer says he thinks this system approach works well.

“I think it’s outstanding. And the reason I’m a big fan of this is because we could not do what we do without a strong and central jail location. Our offenders know that there is a higher level of sanction they could be facing. They could be in the jail, so for them to be out here, they treat that as a privilege, and I think we get better outcomes because of that,” Guyer said.

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