LA jail education program reduces recidivism

CASTAIC, Calif. Learning in prison is part of the innovative program in the Los Angeles County jail system, where prisoners receive an education while behind bars to prepare them for life outside. It's not just vocational skills -- it's how to deal with life as a law-abiding citizen.

"Education-based incarceration is what this is all about," said L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy Dave Bates. "So we're giving guys an opportunity to change their lives. They've been coming to jail, they've been coming to prison. They're tired. They're tired of being tired."

Under this program they are still held accountable for their crimes. But these inmates also learn how to be fathers and husbands. It sounds simple enough, but it's often something these men never learned.

"Though education, we can make a difference," said L.A. County Sheriff's Lt. Brian Fitch. "We can reduce the number of people who come into our care and custody each year."

Some classes are led by teachers, scenarios acted out by instructors showing the men how to deal with everyday situations.

Other classes are through cable channels on inmate televisions or computers. Often it's not what you'd expect from a jail.

"Putting an addict in jail does not change their addiction," said Bates. "Getting to their heart, getting to their mind, finding out why they're doing what they're doing -- you know, locking a guy up, putting him behind bars, does not change anything."

And the recidivism rate has dropped dramatically. Recidivism is the rate of the number of inmates who return to jail after being released. It used to be about 70 percent. Now it's down to about 30 percent.

"It means changing the role of the deputy sheriff," said Fitch. "It means the deputy sheriff can perform more than one function. The deputy sheriff can provide security, but he or she can also act as a mentor, act as a teacher."

The program has been in effect for about four years, and it is successful. Officials say it is changing the lives of thousands of inmates, and in turn, that changes the lives of all of us.

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