Cumberland Times-News

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April 6, 2013

Corrections official: Inmate rehabilitation best for society

CUMBERLAND — A primary objective of the correctional system is to do what it can to make sure that when an inmate is released they can create a successful life and remain on the outside, said Rick Binetti, the executive director of communications for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

“It’s best if they remain free and productive members of society,” said Binetti.

With around 2.3 million people incarcerated, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world according to officials.

The U.S. holds 5 percent of the world’s population, but has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Maryland inmates number around 23,000, which is the maximum capacity of its system.

With rehabilitation a stated goal of prison officials, what can be done?

Inmates do have access to college-level courses while incarcerated.

However, the use of taxpayer dollars to fund an inmate’s education, particularly at the college level, has been a hotly debated topic for years.

Brian Shea, who was released in 2011 from the Western Correctional Institution in Cresaptown, said that he obtained a GED, the equivalent of a high school level diploma, while incarcerated.

“Prison saved my life,” said Shea, who is currently trying to get admitted to college to become a substance abuse counselor.

“I want to help others now. If I can save one person from going through what I went through it will be worth it,” said Shea, who served 10 years and 9 months following a drug fueled stretch of criminal activity.

“One of the most important things that can happen is for them to be successful. We don’t want them back into the system,” said Binetti.

Binetti said about 1,300 inmates are currently taking college level courses in prison.

According to correctional services, 26,577 inmates are enrolled in academic and occupational classes.

“The department tries to help them better themselves. Taking courses while incarcerated is encouraged,” said Binetti.

Inmates can also take mail order classes at their own expense. Binetti said mail order degrees are available.

“We want them to develop marketable skills,” he said.

One of the stated objectives of the DPSCS is to supply offenders and ex-offenders the tools necessary to stay out of the criminal justice system.

However, online courses are not available.

“Offenders are not permitted access to the internet,” said Binetti.

Workplace skills received a boost at the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cresaptown in 2012 when an upholstery plant was opened inside that facility.

The DPSCS, in an effort to help inmates transition to life on the outside, also assists convicts in getting documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses and social security cards.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com

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