Elected leaders might launch a program to help inmates at the Wake County jail learn life and job skills that could help them succeed after they are released.
Wake County commissioners are considering spending $107,000 to partner with Wake Tech Community College for the Inmate Education and Employment Initiative. Commissioners say teaching inmates valuable skills will help keep them from re-offending and returning to jail.
“We are committed to ensuring that all of our residents have a second chance at success if they are willing to put in the work to become productive, law-abiding citizens,” Commissioner Jessica Holmes said. “Addressing recidivism is more cost-effective than recycling individuals in and out of our jails, it’s better for families and enhances public safety.”
Details about the program haven’t yet been worked out, and it’s not yet clear what classes Wake Tech would offer at the detention center on Hammond Road in Raleigh.
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Wake Tech already offers some vocational classes at the prisons in Raleigh, said Lonette Mims, dean of occupational services. Jail inmates are incarcerated for shorter lengths of time than prisoners, so classes may need to be more compact.
As of Feb. 27, Wake’s jail had 1,200 inmates serving sentences that averaged about 70 days. Roughly 46 percent of the inmates were younger than 30. More than 30 percent reported being unemployed, 35 percent said they had jobs and about 30 percent declined to provide their employment status.
The education program would target inmates serving sentences longer than 21 days, or those who have to wait at least 21 days for their court date.
“There’s a subcommittee of us looking at what types of classes would benefit that population,” Mims said.
Wake wouldn’t be the first North Carolina county to launch such a program. The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Alamance Community College in 2015 to help inmates earn high school diplomas. Mims said the Mecklenburg County jail also has an education program.
This wouldn’t be Wake’s first attempt to help educate inmates. In 1997, the John H. Baker Charter High School opened in the Wake County jail and offered inmates a chance to work on earning their high school diplomas.
But the State Board of Education closed the school in 2006 after it violated state regulations for providing classes in off-site locations and failing to maintain accurate enrollment numbers, among other problems.
Wake Tech previously offered classes at the jail through a state-funded program that the General Assembly ended in 2010, Mims said.
“We had a variety of classes,” she said. “At that time, we were doing electrical wiring, heating and air conditioning and computer classes.”
About nine nonprofits, including the Literacy Council which teaches English as a Second Language, work with inmates at the jail, said Commissioner Matt Calabria.
“However, there is no consistent or guaranteed educational programming, negligible coordination, no case management, no reentry management, nor any guarantee that they will continue,” Calabria said. “Many of these have long wait lists.”
Wake commissioners have supported other programs that aim to help offenders. As part of a national “ban the box” movement, the board last year eliminated some questions about criminal history on the county’s employment applications. Last month, as part of a “raise the age” effort, they voiced support for a proposed state law that would keep more teenagers out of prison.
“Inmates are simply less likely to recidivate if we provide them options for getting themselves on a better path,” Calabria said. “In addition to saving taxpayers money, think about all the people who never become victims because you helped someone get on a better path.”