An important prison program

Published 9:31 pm Monday, March 4, 2013

Not everyone who teaches in the Suffolk Public Schools system does so within the walls of Suffolk’s schools. Marie Evans, for example, holds class inside the compound known as the Western Tidewater Regional Jail.

American society puts a great deal of emphasis on the punishment aspect of jail terms. That’s completely appropriate, as it reinforces the concept that actions have consequences, and the potential consequences of illegal actions can serve as a deterrent to those who might be considering breaking the law.

But most people serving time in jail will not be there for the rest of their lives, so it’s also important that jails serve as places where lives can be turned around. That’s where Evans comes in. She oversees a federally mandated program that provides services to inmates under age 22 who had an individualized education program while in school.

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Her classes cover academic, social and vocational skills. Students set individual goals to achieve, usually obtaining their General Educational Development (GED) diploma or getting a Career Readiness Certificate.

For the inmates who participate in the program, it’s a chance to learn some of the skills they will need on the outside, once they’re released from incarceration. It’s a chance for them to experience true rehabilitation and hope for a new, law-abiding life when they are finally released.

According to jail officials, it’s also a very successful program. Ronnie Sharpe, the education director at the jail, said last week that he knew of only two inmates who had completed the program who have been returned to jail after leaving the facility with their new certificates in hand.

Society will always have a right to expect retribution for those who break the laws that have been set to maintain order and peace. But it’s good to know that there are successful programs in place to help ensure inmates learn more in jail than a desire not to get caught the next time they break those laws.