Sheriff's Program Teaches Prisoners To Get Out Of Jail Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca doesn't want to throw away on the key; he wants to equip inmates for a better life outside prison walls. His new initiative gives them an academic education, but that's not all.
NPR logo

Sheriff's Program Teaches Prisoners To Get Out Of Jail

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/135841052/135899267" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Sheriff's Program Teaches Prisoners To Get Out Of Jail

Sheriff's Program Teaches Prisoners To Get Out Of Jail

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/135841052/135899267" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

GUY RAZ, Host:

So this year, he launched an initiative that he hopes will eventually offer a full education to each and every inmate who wants one.

LEE BACA: Most prisoners are high school dropouts. Most of them didn't finish academically sufficiently at the seventh grade or less. And ultimately, what we have is an adult with a child's mind of development. And what I'm trying to do is to have the adult become adult in their mind with all of the intellectual skills that one needs to survive these days.

RAZ: Now, I know it's still in the beta phase. You're still - you've just launched it, but you're working with several universities in the LA area. I mean, how does a prisoner become educated? What kinds of courses are offered to a prisoner, for example?

BACA: You know, not to make a joke here, but attendance is perfect in these classes. And ultimately, they're learning a different way of how to assess their time as they're serving time in jail.

RAZ: This sounds like - almost like a liberal arts education that you're offering prisoners.

BACA: Most definitely it's a liberal arts education. And of course, our belief - and my belief is that you can incarcerate a body, but you should never incarcerate a brain. The brain must develop regardless of what the environment is.

RAZ: Why should taxpayers want to pay for these prisoners, these kinds of people to get these sorts of benefits?

BACA: Our system is not involving taxpayer dollars to the extent of the education piece. We use Inmate Welfare Fund dollars that the inmates themselves generate. So it's not costing additional to educate these individuals other than what they pay for.

RAZ: Now, according to California's own Department of Corrections, your state has the highest recidivism rate in the country. Two out of every three inmates in California will return to jail.

BACA: Yes.

RAZ: I'm assuming your hope is that this program will reduce that rate? What kind of evidence is there to support that?

BACA: If I don't start the education, cultural shift in the local jail, the state is not going to be incentivized to carry on the education mandate that I've set locally.

BACA: Well, you can't prepare a person six months before they're released to function in a free society. You have to prepare them the minute they start the local jail incarceration, the state prison incarceration, and then they're prepared to come out better tooled-up, as they say, to live a positive, crime-free life.

RAZ: Given that most prisons in this country offer some kind of basic adult education, but all the evidence shows that just a fraction of inmates take advantage of these programs, why do you think this one will be different?

BACA: And in fact, this education-based incarceration could be an incentive for people to further their knowledge and then further their reliability and perhaps even get a little reduction on their sentence if they do well academically.

RAZ: Sheriff, thanks so much.

BACA: My pleasure, Guy.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.