Initiative at prison admirable

People end up in prison because of low self-esteem as well as bad decisions.

To its credit, the Blair County Prison Board seems on track to tackle the self-esteem issue more aggressively than the county has done in the past.

That is in the county’s best interests as well as those of the prison inmates. It’s to be hoped that current and future inmates will recognize the opportunities that will be accorded to them and seize the opportunities as means for effecting a positive turnaround in their lives.

Having served time in prison doesn’t automatically guarantee that there will be no chances for achieving successes, going forward. Having served time in prison doesn’t mean that a person has to return to crime to obtain the resources needed for continued existence.

At a prison board meeting Feb. 16, Judge Daniel Milliron raised the laudable point of trying to encourage more inmates without high school diplomas to pursue a high school equivalency diploma.

As a county jurist, Milliron has seen plenty of individuals whose criminal acts stemmed from their bad decision as teenagers to drop out of high school, rather than complete their schooling.

That bad decision subsequently limited their employment opportunities, and that initial decision provided the seeds for other wrong moves — ultimately ending with court appearances and behind-bars sentences.

“I’d like to see how we can create a better environment at the jail,” Milliron said.

The prison initiated a tutoring program last year for inmates interested in getting their equivalency diploma — known commonly as GED — but the effort fizzled.

After having started with five inmates, participation waned, and no one currently is being tutored.

Milliron wants to change that to hopefully ensure that once many inmates currently without high school diplomas complete their sentences, they’ll have a diploma to enhance job-opportunity prospects.

Coupled with that, the board heard Controller A.C. Stickel promote the need for more work-program opportunities for qualifying inmates while they’re serving their sentences.

Stickel noted the benefits derived from a work program in which inmates spent four days helping to remodel the restaurant at the Altoona-Blair County Airport. According to an article in last Monday’s Mirror, the inmates installed new lights and flooring, painted the walls and refinished furniture.

Tracy Plessinger, airport manager, said the inmates also have been helping remodel an airport garage as well as an office area inside the terminal.

The projects not only have saved money, but also have given the prisoners the opportunity to see their positive worth in the realm of non-prison life.

Milliron numbered the inmates participating regularly in work release at fewer than 10; he said he’d like to see that participation increase without affecting public safety.

With proper supervision, that goal is attainable.

Complementing what Milliron and Stickel advocate will be a re-entry program that’s under development to provide help and guidance to inmates nearing their release dates.

Prisons have the opportunity to be much more than houses of incarceration, and it should be encouraging for people of this county that the prison in Hollidaysburg is determined to be more proactive in terms of trying to lower the rate of recidivism.

When prisoners see greater, more-positive meaning to their lives, and build effectively upon that realization, everyone benefits.