BARTOW — In the past, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd always made it clear that if people commit crimes in the county, they’d better be prepared to spend time in jail.
Now the sheriff is taking a new approach — still tough on crime overall, but using education as a way to ensure that those currently incarcerated in Polk County have the tools needed to keep from coming back.
On Thursday, Judd launched a new Inmate Educational Program in the Polk County Jails, billed as the “Keys to Staying Out of Jail.”
It’s being established within both of Polk County’s jails – the Central County Jail in Bartow, and the South County Jail in Frostproof – to provide every inmate with a practical and academic education that puts a focus on improving their quality of life.
The goal is to help inmates establish the tools, skills and education they need to thrive as productive citizens once their sentence has been completed.
“Care, custody, and control of inmates means providing a bed, food, and a shelter for them,” Judd said. “But no longer will jail be a place where inmates simply lie around. By providing inmates access to more education and training —now all day long — we hope to give inmates access to the ‘keys to stay out of jail,’ improve their lives, and lower crime in our community.”
The program has three components. It includes classroom sessions and special television programming available to all inmates. It also comes to the jails at no cost to taxpayers, the sheriff noted.
The jails will now offer videos that cover educational topics shown on large-screen television sets, broadcast daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the day room areas of the jails, with breaks during meal times.
The instructional videos will cover a wide range of topics, including math, science, social studies, reading, arithmetic, and writing. The basic goal of the videos is to help inmates prepare for a GED test.
In addition to being academic and educational, the videos will also offer health and better living information, covering subjects like HIV and disease prevention, drug education and prevention, personal cleanliness and hygiene, and seting good examples for others.
“When inmates come to the Polk County Jail, we will give them a key – not a key to escape, but a key to succeed when they are released,” Judd said. “We want to provide them with the opportunity and tools they can use to help change their lives.”
But, the sheriff added, “It will ultimately be up to them.”
Funding for materials used for this program is being provided by the Inmate Welfare Fund and the SAO drug education and crime prevention fund.
An Inmate Welfare Fund is mandated to provide services essential to the benefit, welfare, and educational needs of inmates confined in detention facilities.
There will also be classroom sessions offered to the inmates, that will include CPR instruction, GED preparation classes, and job skills training.
Polk Works, the workforce development agency for the residents and business community in Polk County, is assisting in the launching of this program by helping to teach inmates how to better position themselves for success in the job market. Polk Works instructors will teach inmates about writing and building up a resume, how to find and apply for jobs, and interview techniques.
That training will cover basic etiquette, grooming, and individual bearing and promptness before and during a job interview.
The inmates will also be provided with training on employer expectations — what their overall attitude should be during an interview, and how to be courteous, diligent, and conscientious, etc.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is now recruiting volunteers to provide this classroom-style teaching, and the law enforcement agency is hoping to bring in retired and current school teachers, church volunteers, and concerned citizens who want to help make a difference in inmates’ lives.
Anyone interested in volunteering can call Captain Rick Hohl at 863-534-6104, or email him at email@example.com.
If this succeeds, Judd said, the entire county will benefit from a lower crime rate.
“This program is the latest step in our holistic approach to reducing crime in Polk County,” Judd. “We began our approach in the jails by making jail a no-frills environment. We took away peanut butter, coffee, and milk, and replaced it with crackers, water, and powdered milk. We took away weights, basketball hoops, and entertainment television.
“Now,” he added, “we want to make the most of inmates’ stay by teaching them how to be better citizens.”
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