By Christopher Zoukis
There are more than 37,000 inmates in 55 prison facilities in North Carolina. Each year, more than 20,000 inmates are released. In fact, 98% of the entire country’s inmates will be released at some point in the future. And increasingly, a wide variety of rehabilitative programs are being offered to ensure that that those freed are prepared to become part of their communities and to decrease the likelihood of them returning to prison.
North Carolina range of programs have many focuses, including the view that education is part of the total rehabilitation process, drives behavioral changes, and provides the tools for the creation of a worthwhile life. The mission of the North Carolina Department of Corrections educational services is to provide resources from basic literacy to advanced vocational skills and life skills to inmates “so that they may become responsible and productive persons who can effectively manage their incarceration and make contributions to their community upon release.”
The main goal is to create inmates who are prepared to be successful job holders and who have been fully rehabilitated. Programs include anger management, parenting classes, religious programs, life skills, computer skills, math, GED, health issues, bible study, prayer groups, traditional groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, literacy programs, Toastmasters, mental health counseling and drug treatment programs. Many programs are run with the help of outside partners, including High Point Jail Ministry, and are carefully vetted. North Carolina also participates in the Stepping Up initiative, whose aim to help reduce the number of people with mental illness cycling through the nation’s prisons. This robust range of programs targets meeting as many inmate needs as possible.
Most recently, North Carolina joined the increasing number of states offering education via technology. Tablets offer learning potential in the face of thinning resources — both financial and human — and it’s heartening to see their use catching on.
A trial program where inmates use Edovo tablets recently launched in High Point Jail. Edovo (Education Over Obstacles), was previously known as Jail Education Solutions, but changed its name as it expanded beyond prison walls. Released offenders can pick up where they left off behind bars by accessing EdovoGo! The mission at Edovo is to provide meaningful access to education and self-improvement tools that can unlock the potential of every person affected by incarceration. The company hopes to be a key provider of educational programs to the four out of five inmates across the country who currently lack access. This is a crucial need, since education is proven to reduce recidivism by up to 45%.
Since the trial began, the tablets have proved very popular; in the first week, 95 inmates logged 8,751 hours working on educational programs, with math and anger management courses being among the most popular. This mimics successes logged in other states and institutions. Other courses include family skills, finance, English, religious courses, and even instruction on how to behave in a courtroom. In total, Edovo has developed 10,000 hours of evidence-based programming, from basic literacy to college equivalency.
The tablets also offer incentives to inmates in the form of rewards for hitting milestones. Points earned can be spent on music, movies, television, games, or to make phone calls and send messages. Phone calls and messages sent on the secure tablets are recorded by PayTel, a jail phone service, and monitored by jail staff.
While the trial was launched only at High Point jail, there are hopes to expand it soon, as technology issues are identified and fixed. Since jails and prisons are often made of concrete, the necessary connectivity needed can be hard to navigate, and may be hindered by the solid construction materials.
By offering a rich array of programs, and trialling new forms of programming such as the Edovo tablets, North Carolina has paved a solid pathway toward meeting its educational mission, providing meaningful rehabilitation, and to seeing results such as reduced incidences of violence and greatly reduced recidivism rates.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com.