Wilkes jail effort gives inmates incentives for self-improvement | News

The Wilkes County Jail now offers pre-trial inmates 760 different online self-improvement courses, plus privileges for successfully completing them.

Inmates accumulate credits by passing a test at the end of each course. They can exchange the credits for time watching movies, playing games or listening to music.

The courses and these privileges are available to inmates on tablet computers with security restrictions in a program called Pathway to Achieve, Learn to Earn. Course length and other factors determine the number of credits inmates can earn per course, but one credit equals one minute of reward time watching movies, playing games or listening to music.

The program began June 2, with tablets, courses and everything else needed provided or funded by Pay Tel Communications Inc. There also is no cost to inmates. Pay Tel is the Wilkes Sheriff’s Office’s longtime provider of legally obligated telephone communications to inmates and families.

“We had been looking for something beneficial for inmates for a long time. We’ve looked at other projects and programs, but they were either financially or logistically unattainable. We feel like this project is well worth any effort, which so far has been minimal versus the benefit,” said Wilkes Sheriff Chris Shew.

“It results in better behavior because it gives inmates something constructive to do with their time” while they’re incarcerated and waiting to go to court, said Shew, adding this would be true for anyone.

All inmates begin the Pathway to Achieve, Learn to Earn program by participating in a risk needs assessment to identify which courses may help them succeed after they leave jail.

Some of the course topics are substance abuse, addiction recovery, anger management, college preparation, “changing your thinking,” financial literacy, general job skills, mental health, parenting, life skills, reading and literacy and re-entry.

It also includes courses to prepare for GED (General Educational Development) and high school equivalency tests offered through Wilkes Community College.

Major Jason Whitley, Wilkes County Jail director, said one inmate has completed the program’s 165 courses needed to take the GED exam through Wilkes Community College.

Another course titled, “Rise4Me Reentry Resources,” is offered through the Rise4Me website (www.rise4me.com). This website, launched by partnering with Pay Tel, compiles local and national public resources in one location to help inmates successfully reenter society upon release from jail.  

Whitley said the program is designed to decrease violence inside the facility, increase education and reduce recidivism. He said about all Wilkes jail inmates have participated since the program was started. The jail currently has about 120 inmates.