This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, May 13, 1998

May 13, 1998 - Literacy Tutors Needed for Jail

I recently went on a tour of the new Robert A. Christensen Justice Center. It was disturbing.

On the one hand, the building appears to be very well-designed, well-planned.

On the other hand, it’s hard not to see the inherent schizophrenia of the American justice system. On one side of the building are a series of impressive court rooms and offices. The court rooms strike a note of respect; a quiet and calm, a dignity of purpose prevails.

Judges enter their courts from a panel behind the desk. The accused enter from the side. And behind that door is a stark cinder block corridor and holding area.

This harsher motif is carried out on the other side of the building -- the jail. And this setting strikes another mood: claustrophobia, control.

The Justice Center was built for “growth.”

While I don’t pretend to know all the reasons America has more prisoners every year, I do know something about prison inmates as a group.

* Only 51% have completed high school or its equivalent, compared with 76% of the general population.

* Seventy percent of prisoners scored in the two lowest literacy levels of the national Adult Literacy Survey. While they are not totally illiterate, they have great difficulty writing a letter explaining, for instance, an error on a credit card bill, or understanding a bus schedule.

* Eight percent of Colorado’s inmates read below a ninth grade level.

I don’t know the cost to keep a prisoner in the new Justice Center for a period of a year. State figures suggest that a prisoner costs a minimum of $21,000 per year. By contrast, a welfare recipient costs a minimum of $9,823 a year.

But compare that with the average cost of adult education programs per adult learner in 1997 -- $239.93. Based on recent study by the Colorado Literacy Research Initiative, such educational participation landed a job for one out of every five students, enabled one in eight to keep a job or earn a promotion for one in eight, and of the people currently receiving public assistance, one in ten got off the dole completely.

On a purely economic basis, education would appear to be cheaper than incarceration.

All of this information is by way of trying to recruit literacy volunteers for inmates of the Douglas County jail. As any of our many tutors will tell you, few volunteer activities are so rewarding. The gift of literacy has the power to change lives, to rehabilitate and to make productive citizens of people now literally trapped.

If you’d like to make that kind of a difference in someone’s life, contact Penny Perkins, Literacy Coordinator for the Douglas Public Library District. Her number is 841-6942. Our next literacy training is scheduled for June 13, 20, and 27 from 9 a.m. until noon. The June 13 session will provide some literacy facts, and describe the library’s program, policies, and needs. On June 20, we’ll cover strategies for dealing with basic literacy and English as a Second Language students. The June 27 sessions will focus on GED exams, and strategies for helping someone prepare for them.

Tutors who sign up to help inmates must also attend a sheriff’s department volunteer training session, which is slated for July 11. It will start promptly at 8:00 a.m., and run through 4 p.m. After that, you can stick around for the tour. If you have any questions about that, call Linda M. DeLuca at 660-7505, ext. 6641, for leave a message at ext. 7088. Justice Center volunteers must sign up by June 15, 1998.

All that might sound like a lot of time. But for people DOING time, your willingness to invest four days of your life -- and an average of one hour a week thereafter -- could be a kind of salvation.

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