Project LEAD Builds Bridges

Article excerpt

In Genesee County, just as in many other communities throughout the country, news of local crimes and acts of violence fills newspaper, television and radio reports. The Genesee County Sheriff Department Inmate Services Division and the community are working to bridge the gap for those incarcerated in the Genesee County Jail and the community. After learning about our new program, perhaps you, too, will be inspired to build bridges.

The Journey

The Genesee County Sheriff Department in Flint, Mich., serves 35 cities and townships. The Genesee County Jail admitted 11,996 sentenced and nonsentenced offenders in 1995 and 9,801 in 1994. Forty percent (3,920) remained in the jail three days to 12 months, averaging 27 days of incarceration.

Genesee County always has been progressive in evaluating and implementing programs to reduce crime. Yet, young adults continued to be incarcerated at an increasing rate. It was evident that, in spite of community efforts to devise and implement progressive programs, there remained a missing link. In searching for the missing link, the question became: "What can be done or should be done to develop viable programs to help the incarcerated gain the skills they need to pursue academic and career goals and make a positive reentry into the community?"

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that about 40 percent of all jail and prison inmates have completed high school verses 85 percent of males between the ages of 20 and 29 in the general U.S. population. The population of high school dropouts is about three times larger among the incarcerated than among the general population.

Also, inmates with high school diplomas do not necessarily possess literacy skills needed to function in society. Research has indicated that literate adults are able to read and understand seven different types of documents. Yet, 18 percent to 69 percent of inmates report that they read documents, such as directions, instructions, diagrams, bills and invoices, less than once a week.

Programs that develop skills that enable individuals to run a household and seek, gain and maintain employment are needed. Implementation of a comprehensive local correctional program that works would mean healthier communities and diminished recidivism.

The changing political climate and the shrinking economic resources for human services programs in corrections poses a constant challenge to design and implement programs that would meet the needs of the criminal justice system, the community and the offender.

After many months of research and of battling the skepticism inherent in any novel concept, meetings were held with local judges, educators and other community leaders to lay the groundwork to design and implement a program. The question no longer was: "What can be done?" or "What should be done?" but "How soon can we do it?" The "it" became Project LEAD (Life Enrichment and Development).

As director of inmate services, I envisioned the program and conceptualized the idea in 1992. I authored the grant and obtained $537,963 from the U.S. Department of Education in 1993 to implement the program concept. Before Project LEAD, the jail treatment program consisted of isolated counseling sessions, alcohol information and self-awareness groups, limited centralized remedial reading, and GED preparation and high school completion education instruction. There was no interrelationship among the components; no student files maintained on site; no means to determine whether or not programming affected students' attitudes, self-esteem or behavior; and no means to track academic gains.

Project LEAD systematically integrated all the components. Academic, life skills, vocational and community linkages were first and foremost. The Project LEAD program concept incorporates classroom computer-assisted and life skills instruction into a prevocational curriculum. In this atmosphere of economic decline, it has become increasingly difficult for individuals with low basic literacy skills to find and maintain employment. …