The Big Sandy Regional Detention Center board discussed pursuing educational programs to fight recidivism at its regular meeting last Thursday.
“I met with this lady not too long ago about trying to incorporate something within the jail that we can use to help our inmates so that they can get some type of certification so that when they leave, they can go right to a job, and have a skillset, instead of being repeats,” said Chairman Daniel Castle. “So, trying to figure out a way to do that, we’ve been brainstorming and had a few ideas, but we need to discuss first and foremost, how can we start it from a foundational standpoint, where do we begin with this, because this is an undertaking that’s not been done before.”
As part of this foundation, the board had a conversation with Tammy Castle, the SkillsU director for Big Sandy Community and Technical College, who discussed the background and the future of the adult education program at the jail.
Tammy Castle voiced a few concerns with how the GED program at the jail is currently operating and made suggestions on how to improve the program, which the board heard and granted a few concessions to improve these issues, including having too small of an area for inmate instruction.
“This is no fault of anyone’s, but there is a small space in which you can only see two or three students at a time,” Tammy Castle said. “I don’t think the jail right now has the space available to let five or six students come to class, so we get discouraged about that … we talked about the possibility of expansion, not expanding the jail, but maybe just finding some additional space for these students to finish, because if they don’t get that GED, then they’re not going to get the training they need.”
Tammy Castle then asked for the thoughts of the board members.
The board suggested making use of the judge’s chambers at the jail, which is currently used to host monthly meetings as well as its normal functions. According to Tammy Castle, the increased size of the instructional area would allow instructors to enroll more inmates into the GED program and expedite the process of acquiring it.
Daniel Castle suggested starting a program that would allow the jail to sign out inmates for supervised classes in skilled labor education programs, such as welding.
“You think it’s feasible, I’m thinking down the road here, I mean, we sign inmates out to go pick up garbage, and they’re supervised, why couldn’t we sign inmates out to go get a certification in welding and have somebody supervise them,” Daniel Castle said. “What an impact that would make on these families and these people if we could do something like that …”
Tammy Castle said the college would likely be open to such a program, but the onus of getting it approved and off the ground would likely fall on the jail administration and the Department of Corrections.
“I think that would be, probably, a heavier decision from your side,” said Tammy Castle. “I think the college would certainly entertain something like that … it’s worth having the discussion.”
Daniel Castle agreed, and then asked for the most basic needs of the GED program at the jail that need to be addressed to improve the program’s enrollment, which Tammy Castle said were more instructional time and a larger space for instruction.
The board asked if there was a need to make a motion or sign an agreement, which Tammy Castle said wouldn’t be necessary as there was already an agreement in place. Both Tammy Castle and the board members agreed that a tighter focus would be placed on improving the SkillsU program at the BSRDC.
Board member Zach Branham said the only thing he would like to make sure of was a wealth of information for inmates on how to proceed with their training after discharge from the jail if they weren’t able to complete their GED while incarcerated.
The Big Sandy Regional Detention Center Board meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at 6 p.m., alternating venues between the judge’s chambers at the jail and the Johnson County Fiscal Court room. All meetings are open to the public.