Jail GED Programs Help Educate Inmates on Brighter Future

By Leah Binkovitz / Houston Chronicle  Fort Bend County Jail / Image courtesy jailstuff.org

Ramiro Eric Avalos just celebrated his 32nd birthday - his third awaiting trial in the Fort Bend County jail.

"It's not depressing like it used to be," he said.

That's partly because he started taking GED classes under a new program the jail launched this year. The second set of students in the four-month-long program is set to graduate this week.

"This class really helps me get out of the tank," he said, "and put my mind into something different."

Educational programs that help inmates earn their GED or high school diploma or even just teach reading and writing skills have been in prisons across the country since the 1970s, with their popularity rising and falling as attitudes about crime and funding change. Most recently in Texas, the state prison budget was cut 27 percent in 2011.

But jails are trickier. Because most people in jail, like Avalos, are awaiting trial rather than serving out sentences, the turnover rate is high. It's up to local interest and funding to get educational programs in jails up and running.

Many large jails, such as Harris and Travis counties, have robust GED programs, experts said.

"In smaller jails, you expect that they may have volunteers that come in and teach reading, but they may not have formal education programs," said Lois Davis, a senior policy researcher with the RAND Corporation.

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