Supervisors seek ways to keep inmates from returning to life of crime

Published 11:41 pm Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Going to jail in Pearl River County? Then you might come out with more skills, more education and a better self-worth than when you went in and not of the criminal kind.

That, according to District 3 supervisor Hudson Holliday, will be a win-win situation for the county and its residents. “I went on a tour of the jail,” said Holliday. “And a lot of these people are young. They are getting an education on how to be a better criminal.”

Holliday asked the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors to consider creating a new, full-time position for a person to initiate and create an educational program to give those incarcerated job skills, education and a boost to their self-esteem. “I am not naïve enough to think we can help them all,” he said. “But we can’t afford not to try. If we keep just five people from coming back, it’ll pay for itself.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Holliday said there would be four components to the program: education, vocational training, motivational and job placement.

For the educational component, Holliday suggested in-jail classes, GED tests and computer training. “They need basic computer skills,” Holliday said. “Where are they going to get a job if they don’t have training?”

BBefore they could even begin the training, he said, each individual would need to be evaluated as to skills, education and motivation. “We need to first evaluate these people,” said Holliday. “We basically need to improve the three R’s.”

As for the vocational component, Holliday said that perhaps the county could get Pearl River Community College or one of the local school districts involved and the inmates could learn a job skill such as construction, welding or cooking. “We need to try and prepare people to make a living when they come out,” he said.

Next is the motivational part of the program. Many of the inmates more than likely suffer from a low self-esteem. “We can have a spiritual component,” Holliday said, “but motivation is the key. We have to get people to see there’s more to life.”

Holliday said that even the present jail work program contributes to the lack of self-esteem. “If we put them alongside of the road (picking up trash) and dress them in stripes, it will destroy their self-esteem.”

Other areas Holliday thought the program could offer to participating inmates was a reading program where the participant would read from a list of books and write, in essence, a book report, bringing in guest speakers, and planting crops that could be used at the jail. “There is no better self-satisfaction than growing things. They can plant watermelons, corn, vegetables and we can use it at the prison.”

Once an inmate is released all the skills he acquired through the program might not do any good unless the inmate has a lead on a job. “If they’re not going up for 20 years, and if he does everything (required from the program), he might leave there with a written recommendation,” Holliday said.

The supervisor admitted the program would have to offer incentives for participation, such as reduced time, a better dormitory and perks such as a better television, more access to better books or special privileges. “I talked with Judge Pritchard, and most of the time they are dealing with state prison,” Holliday said. “But maybe they can get a lighter sentence if the guy completes all these programs, or the possibility of an early release.”

In order for the program to be a success, the county will have to hire a full-time person to oversee the creation and implementation of the program. “How do we do this,” Holliday asked. He said it would take “a special person” to make the program work. “We hire a full time person who can coordinate with Pearl River Community College, build a library and find potential employers and guest speakers.”

Holliday said that he had spoken to Sheriff David Allison, who agreed to work with such a program. “We’ll do our part to make sure it goes they way you want,” Allison said.

County Administrator Adrian Lumpkin said he believed the program could pay for itself over time, pointing out that with all the man hours involved to secure a conviction, added to the cost of housing and feeding an inmate, trying to lower the recidivism rate would be a win-win situation for the residents of the county. “If you deter one or two, or improve the skills of four or five, you will see an offset,” Lumpkin said. “Especially if you figure all those hours to come up with a conviction.”

County attorney Joe Montgomery said he was in favor of the program, noting that Pearl River county could possibly change the way the other counties, even the state, approached its jail and prison system. “This is a statewide problem. This board might provide the leadership for the rest of the state.”

All of the supervisors said they believe it was a good idea, but they wanted to talk more with the sheriff and work out a solid plan.

“I think it is a good idea, but first I want to ask David Allison, the sheriff, a few questions,” said District 2 supervisor Charles Culpepper. Sandy Kane Smith, District 5 supervisor added, “We can’t just throw this together, but it could work.”

The supervisors hope to have Allison attend the March 9 meeting to discuss the program and the feasibility of its working.