Wake County has tried to help educate its jail inmates on the theory that a measure of academic education, along with tips on life skills such as looking for work, is not just good for the individuals but in the best interest of the public.
A jail inmate, typically younger and in for a more minor crime and for a shorter period of time than those in a state prison, might well find a good path that will lead toward a success in life rather than one that leads too many young offenders right back 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,” Wake Commissioner Jessica Holmes said.
Toward that end, commissioners are thinking about spending a little more than $100,000 to join with Wake Technical Community College to offer inmates skills to help them find jobs and help getting on their feet in other ways. It would be called the Inmate Education and Employment Initiative. It has not been filled in with details, but given Wake Tech’s reputation and the enlightened attitude toward helping jail inmates on the part of commissioners, it sounds worth a try. Classes would be taught at the detention center on Hammond Road in Raleigh.
It is to the county’s credit, and to the credit of previous editions of the commissioners’ boards, that Wake has focused before on helping inmates get some education and thus a start on entering the work force with a future that won’t include another trip to the jail.
Other efforts included a charter high school in the Wake jail, aimed at helping inmates get their high school diplomas. And Wake Tech has offered other classes at the jail through a program that was funded by the state until it ended in 2010.
In addition, nine nonprofits work to help inmates improve their skills, including reading. This is all to the good, but Commissioner Matt Calabria rightly points out that any education program, whether focused on academics or life skills, needs coordination. That means having an organized curriculum and an approach that is beyond a one-time exposure to classes. Inmates should learn the importance of learning more and be encouraged to continue classes after they are released. Time in jail can indeed be a form of correction when it is combined with basic education.
It’s easy, when money is tight — and state lawmakers led by Republicans have made it harder and harder on municipalities — to do the minimum with things like programs for inmate learning. There are other needs such as affordable housing and school costs and help for needy children. And in Wake County all those needs are growing.
But commissioners deserve credit for not overlooking the needs of inmates, who lack both public sympathy and political clout. An investment in learning will help not only inmates, but taxpayers as offenders learn not to repeat the behavior that put them in jail.