New jail program teaches inmates life skills, seeks to reduce recidivism

New jail program teaches inmates life skills, seeks to reduce recidivism

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. -- County jails across the country are filled with repeat offenders, and the Benton County Jail is no exception. But there is work underway to stop this cycle.

Folks at the Benton County jail are trying to take advantage of these inmates’ time to teach them valuable life skills that they may not have gotten earlier in their lives.

This is part of a brand new inmate rehabilitation program to give them resources they say they've been hungry for--for quite some time.

The first eight days out of jail--those 192 hours are the most critical for an ex inmate--that could determine whether or not they'll change their ways or end up behind bars again.

“There's people that want to do it,” Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher said. “They want to change. I saw that over the past couple years, and that's what gave me the motivation to create something that gives them that path.”

A new redirection program is teaching inmates skills like resume building, GED courses, parenting classes, and on Wednesday: a class on nonviolent communication.

“A lot of us have been starving for an opportunity,” inmate Shadow Stearns said. “We come and we don't want to be here no more.”

Inmates said the five hours of daily courses are what they've been waiting for.

“We’ve made mistakes,” inmate Anthony Aguilar said. “We're all human. But to get past these mistakes, we need help.”

“This is going to make us better parents, better sons, better friends,” inmate Tavaris Darnell said.

Inmates can choose electives that best suit their needs.

“If I didn't know better, I’d think this program was based around me,” inmate Michael Long said.

Hatcher said the program does come with its challenges--like fitting curriculum into the inmates’ average 14-day stays.

But he says he hopes the next time he sees the group, it will be to mentor them from the other side.

“I hope when I see these guys it won't be on the streets, it will be at Walmart and see them picking up milk and eggs for their family,” Darnell said.

So these inmates will serve their time with purpose--and have a support system for their first eight days as free men.

Hatcher said they hope to expand the program to more than 60 inmates and eventually offer the courses to women as well.

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