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Jail Professionals Urge Inmate Education


By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

Dallas, TX – In this bad economy, getting a job is tougher than it's been in years. For newly released inmates, their jail record makes it's even harder. But experts say inmate employment is vital to lowering crime rates and creating safer communities. KERA's Bill Zeeble explains.

Society may say you've served your time, paid your debt, and can now start over. But that's not really the way it is.

Christopher Pipkin: Even though the prison sentence is over, the debt to society is never paid. Because when you fill out the application and they say "Well, have you ever been convicted of a felony?" And then there it is.

Christopher Pipkin served 9 years for aggravated robbery.Prior to prison, he had worked in the telecom industry, managed a restaurant. But after he got out, he couldn't land any job, anywhere.

Pipkin: They don't want to take a chance on a guy with a violent crime on their record. It's almost impossible unless you have an inroad.

Pipkin's inroad was a faith based rehabilitation and training program. He says, thanks to that, he found his current job in Prison Fellowship Ministries. He says jail education and training programs, faith-based or not - are essential to success once you're out.

Pipkin: In jail, about 60 percent of guys I knew never had a job. So the skills teaches them how to get and keep a job.

And that's important. The Department of Justice says 2/3rds of those released will commit another crime. But that recidivism rate drops if the person lands a decent job with a living wage. That's why Jolene Whitten, a Federal Probation officer in North Texas, pushes for prison training and education programs. She was part of a national convention of jail professionals meeting in Dallas.

Jolene Whitten: Individuals are coming out of prison regardless. who do you want as your neighbor? The person who came out of prison with out a job who may eventually return to criminal activity? Or do you want the individual who's coming out of prison, gets a job, and doesn't return to crime?

Burt Maroney worked in a federal probation office in Iowa where he says job training and education programs worked.

Burt Maroney: and saw about a 70 percent reduction in recidivism for people that participated in job readiness programming and held steady employment.

Community college involvement in local jails is growing; that includes Dallas County Jails. Officials urge inmates to get into some program, because it increases the odds of finding work. Dejee Brown is out of jail after serving 9 months on drug charges. He's enrolled in a job training program. He still hasn't landed a job, but won't give up.

Dejee Brown But you just got to try. If you don't try you ain't going to have no chance. Life ain't supposed to be easy if you don't work hard you ain't get nothing

"Nothing" is what Brown says he used to do before he went to jail. Now he says he's learning about home insulation and weatherization, heating and air conditioning, industrial cooling towers, and more. because he says he does NOT want to go back to jail.

Email Bill Zeeble