Friday, February 22, 2008

New jail more than a new building

Blaine County's most enduring disgrace is soon to be just a bad memory. The crowded, outmoded, 26-bed county jail will be closed, probably this summer, and a larger new facility with more than 80 beds and modern state-of-the-art penal standards and equipment will open.

Three times, Blaine County voters rejected appeals from county officials to approve bond issues for a new jail. Finally, a $10 million issue was OK'd last year.

Happily, Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling sees this new facility as more than just a spiffy new building to lock up prisoners. To the contrary. Femling is a modern professional who clearly knows the value of giving prisoners the chance to use time wisely and prepare themselves for worthwhile lives outside of crime.

Among Femling's programs will be schooling for prisoners, who can get their GED high school equivalent diploma and perhaps go on to advanced curricula.

"We can't just keep locking people up," Femling said recently. "We need to do some kind of turning around here."

Study after study shows that education reduces the chance of jail prisoners' and state prison inmates' being arrested and jailed again by substantial percentages. Two such studies reported that recidivism dropped to 26.4 percent and 25 percent respectively among those obtaining a diploma, compared to 44.6 percent and 77 percent recidivism among those who did not graduate while incarcerated.

Each prisoner who can be removed from a cycle of crime saves taxpayers enormous costs--in arrests, trials and incarceration. Sheriff Femling and Blaine County are on the right track and making a major contribution to the war on crime.

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