Lofty goals at WTRJ

Published 7:50 pm Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some of the inmates at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail eventually will wind up incarcerated in Virginia prisons for crimes that will keep them out of circulation for many years. But many of them are serving time in jail for relatively minor crimes, infractions for which they’ll be released after having served less than a year.

A recent program offered at the jail by Paul D. Camp Community College is designed to help ensure that those short-term, nonviolent, low-risk inmates do not leave the facility, commit new crimes and return again.

The most recent statistics from the Virginia Department of Corrections show that about 29 percent of adults who are released from the commonwealth’s prisons return within three years, having been convicted of and sentenced for crimes they committed after leaving lockup. Nearly one in three is surely a high percentage. But as bad as that number might sound, it’s still far better than the national average of 43 percent.

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State officials and researchers suggest that Virginia’s no-parole prisons have helped reduce the rate of recidivism by keeping prisoners behind bars longer, ensuring that many are no longer among the age groups most likely to commit crimes by the time they leave prison.

Jails, as opposed to prisons, are designed to house inmates with sentences of a year or less, so parole issues are not likely to have an effect on helping to turn prisoners back to a life of lawfulness. Economic conditions and employment, according to the corrections department, strongly influence those prisoners’ likelihood of winding up back behind bars once released. Education, vocational training and life skills are especially important among this group.

That’s where the community college program comes in. Nine inmates at WTRJ recently completed a nine-week program in which they learned new job skills they hope to be able to use upon their release. The inmates were certified for work in the warehousing and distribution industry, and they earned nine hours of college credit in the process.

When these men leave WTRJ, they will do so with the hope of starting new lives in which they are self-sufficient, contributing members of society. They now have a chance that might otherwise not have existed to prove themselves reformed and worthy of an employer’s trust.

The college’s program at the regional jail sets admirable goals that Virginia has plenty of reason to support. We can all join in hoping it will be successful and that the men who completed it will be, as well.