Behind bars but building a future: GED, other programs at Sumter jail aim to reduce recidivism

BY ADRIENNE SARVIS
adrienne@theitem.com
Posted 4/1/18

Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center

is partnering with local agencies

and businesses to offer GED, Work-

Keys, carpentry and other programs to

inmates in an attempt to reduce …

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Behind bars but building a future: GED, other programs at Sumter jail aim to reduce recidivism

Posted

Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center

is partnering with local agencies

and businesses to offer GED, Work-

Keys, carpentry and other programs to

inmates in an attempt to reduce the

amount of repeat offenders.

“This is not a prison but a detention

center,” Sumter County Sheriff Anthony

Dennis said. “We just detain people.”

The goal is to reduce the recidivism

rate, or the number of offenders who

return to jail, and to hopefully see a reduction

in unemployment in the county,

he said.

Dennis said this is one of the

things he wanted to do when he

started considering taking leadership

of the jail last year.

“We need folks to walk out with

some type of future,” he said.

Most jobs require applicants to

have WorkKeys certification, he

said.

Through a partnership with

Sumter County Adult Education,

inmates can begin studying for

the GED and WorkKeys tests and

prepare for better opportunities.

Dennis said inmates will also

be able to take welding and culinary

courses in the future.

The courses are free to the inmates,

male and female, and do

not pose any additional costs to

the taxpayers, he said.

Dennis said most of the people

in the detention center are being

held for family court issues and

misdemeanor crimes.

People should know they have

other options than to return to

crime when they get out, he said.

Inmates aren’t forced to take

part in these programs, Dennis

said, so it is the inmates themselves

choosing to do better.

The instructors are just as passionate

about making sure their

students have a brighter future.

Alexandra Baten, the primary

GED and WorkKeys instructor,

said she teaches soft skills as

well as prepares students for the

tests.

“I don’t want them to do so well

here and have nowhere to go

when they leave,” she said.

Baten said the course has been

a success for her students so far,

and there is even a waiting list.

Though studying for the GED

and WorkKeys tests could take

months, Chief Deputy Hampton

Gardner said, those who leave the

jail before taking the test can finish

their classes at Sumter County

Adult Education.

These programs allow the inmates

to pick up some skills and

do some great things, he said.

Some former inmates have

even sent letters to the sheriff’s

office thanking their instructors

for helping them get into the program,

Gardner said.

The detention center also offers

counseling to encourage inmates

to find better paths rather than

returning to jail after they are released,

he said.

“And we are seeing fewer people

in jail,” Gardner said. “That’s

what we want.”

Sheriff Dennis said he is also

working with local agencies to

help inmates find employment

through work release.

“We’re seeing a success with all

programs,” Dennis said. “I’m excited

about the future of the detention

center.”