Four county inmates who once had the book thrown at them will now be hitting the books instead.
Two men and two women currently incarcerated in San Mateo County facilities are getting the chance to participate in the first charter high school nationwide catering to offenders in a bid to give them education they likely missed and a better opportunity of success after release.
“We hope by investing in these programs we’ll cut down on recidivism and costs down the road,” said Sheriff Greg Munks who asked the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to approve participation in the San Francisco-based Five Keys Charter School.
The board backed the plan which Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said fits into the county’s goal of “really looking at creative ways of helping people and finding creative solutions.”
The agreement calls for transferring the four chosen inmates to the San Francisco Jail where they will get both computer-based learning and transitional classroom schooling both while in custody and after their release.
Munks said while the San Mateo County jails have GED programs they cannot deliver the same outcomes as this charter school because many inmates either leave before they finish or take the tests before discharge but do not later follow up to receive the documentation.
Another hindrance is simply a matter of education and circumstances.
The average San Mateo County inmate is a man or woman of color 18 to 25 years old and with a fourth- to sixth-grade reading level, Munks said.
That inmate also tends to be from a single-parent family, is economically disadvantaged and on the radar of social services and law enforcement since adolescence.
Without education in place, these ex-offenders are challenged to qualify for higher-paying jobs and having crime free lives after release, Munks said.
Currently, the county’s recidivism rate hovers around 40 percent although under realignment the definition, and therefore the statistic, is under review.
The San Francisco charter school — a partnership with the Sheriff’s Department and the San Francisco Unified School District — is the nation’s first offender-oriented charter school. While the program isn’t limited only to San Francisco residents, Munks said he and his staff chose to make residency a factor for consideration because it will help the offenders continue even after release. San Francisco is also the second-most common city of residence for local inmates and Tissier pointed to the challenges and costs of supervising out-of-county offenders once they leave custody and go home.
Other factors for school participation are having no more than 60 days remaining on a sentence with no supervision conditions and a positive recommendation by the classification unit as a low to medium risk.
Munks said an initial survey of those interested and qualifying turned up about 30 men and 10 women. Now, with board approval in place, the classification unit will return to the list to see who is still in custody and willing to make the commitment.
“We want the best opportunities for success so motivation is a big issue,” Munks said.
The county will pay the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department the daily rate of $135 per inmate for a total, assuming all bed days are used, up to $197,000. The money will come from the existing state realignment funding allocated to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.
Munks said the price is pretty much in line with the industry’s average daily rates for incarceration. Renting beds in other counties run between $100 to $110 per day so the programming piece adds about $30 on top of that.
Once San Mateo County’s new jail in Redwood City is open in 2015, Munks said a similar charter school program might be a good fit.
“We want to see what it looks like and how it fits into our plan,” he said.
With a number of San Mateo County residents housed in the San Francisco jail, there could also be the opportunity to swap inmates between the two school programs, he said.
Tissier is also open to the idea of establishing a county program in the new jail if the pilot proves successful.
“The jury’s out but it seems to be a good program and we’ll give it a shot,” she said.
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