News Comments

Jail Literacy Program

The Literacy Council offers Adult Basic Education and Math Classes at the Walworth County Jail (Elkhorn, WI). August 11th, 2008 marked the first day of literacy classes at the Walworth County Jail. Board Members, Professional Volunteer Instructors, the Coordinator, and Jail Administration & Staff all contributed to laying the foundation for the Jail Program. The planning and preparation process took over a year, but classes have finally come to fruition. Literacy Classes are held in a classroom in the Programming Section of the jail. The classroom is complete with a dry erase board, a podium, tables & chair. Professional volunteer instructors teach individual & small group classes in the jail, in the areas of Adult Basic Education (ABE), and Math. Classes are held once per week, and class duration varies by instructor, usually running one and a half hours. More than 400 students have already benefitted from literacy classes in the jail. Inmates enter into a Behavioral & Attendance policy with the Literacy Council, and it is stressed that literacy classes within the jail are a privilege, not a right. The Literacy Council has received positive feedback from Jail Personnel, as well as student inmates. One student, who recently completed literacy classes commented, “had I not had the extra help with reading and comprehension, I would not have passed my GED. ”

The Walworth County Jail Literacy Program is located inside the Walworth County Jail in Elkhorn. The jail housed 4,180 inmates in 2007.

Background Information on the Jail Literacy Program

The jail literacy project began in the summer of 2007, as the WCLC Board of Directors embarked to research the need and desire for a literacy program within the jail. The first step was to survey each new jail inmate, via a questionnaire. The survey addressed demographics and the need for literacy classes. Board Member John Bigler created the jail survey, and Board Member Terry Schuerman prepared the questionnaire in Spanish. The survey was then distributed by jail staff to each new individual booked in the jail. From June 2007 to December 2007, 567 surveys were completed. The survey results clearly illustrated a need and desire for literacy classes in the Walworth County Jail. “Beyond their sometimes hardened exterior and beyond the title of their offense, lies an individual who so often wants to change their life but does not know how or where to begin. I have represented individuals charged with everything from the most serious murder to a rather petty theft. My experiences have shown me that there must first be a desire to do the hard work to change their lives. Education is the key to change for so many of those incarcerated. Education instills esteem and power—power to leave the criminal ways behind them, to stop making excuses, and to create a brighter tomorrow”, says Brigette Kutschma, former Public Defender in Walworth and Rock counties. Several national studies have shown that correctional based educational programs have a significant impact on the recidivism rate. For example, a Three State Recidivism Study, published in 2001, focused on 3200 individuals who were released from prison in three states, Maryland, Minnesota and Ohio. The Study evaluated the 3 common areas of recidivism—re-arrest, re-conviction, and re-incarceration—between those who had participated in educational opportunities while incarcerated and those who had not. The Study found that educational participation while incarcerated reduced the likelihood of re-arrest by 13%; reduced the likelihood of re-conviction by 21%; and reduced the likelihood by 29%. (Steurer, Stephen J. , Linda Smith, and Alice Tracy, Three State Recidivism Study, Correctional Educational Association, Lanham, MD, 2001. )

Based on the local need and desire for jail literacy classes, the proven effects of educational jail programming nationwide, and the cooperation of the Walworth County Jail, the WCLC launched literacy classes in August 2008. For more information about this program please contact:

Lilly Barrett