DENTON — Haley Keller and Alan Bedgood ended up in the Denton County Jail a few weeks ago and decided to change their lives.
Both saw fliers for the jail’s new inmate GED program and signed up for it.
Keller, of Krum, dropped out of high school as a junior. “When I get out, with my GED, I can enroll in college classes,” said the 18-year-old, who is in jail on a probation violation after being arrested on drug charges. “Education will help me.”
Bedgood agreed. The 27-year-old Red Oak man, in jail on suspicion of a probation violation, dropped out as a sophomore.
“I want to one day own my own company,” Bedgood said. “Getting my GED will help me toward that goal.”
That’s what Sandi Brackeen wants to hear from her inmate students.
For 18 months, Brackeen, a Denton County detention officer, had campaigned to reinstate the jail’s GED, or high school equivalency certificate, program, which was canceled in 2001.
With funding from the jail commissary and telephone services, Brackeen was given the green light to restart in September and get her students ready for their first GED test in October. She also managed to have the Denton County Jail and the juvenile detention center certified as GED testing sites.
Brackeen, a former bookstore owner and teacher, was also given the job as instructor in the new program.
“We have some inmates with zero education to those with some college education,” Brackeen said. “With some, we have to teach them to read.”
GED and other vocational programs for inmates have been proved to reduce recidivism, according to national studies and legal experts.
Nationally, more than 60 percent of the inmates released from prison without attending vocational programs or education classes will return within years, according to the Justice Department.
Having the programs “will make a smoother transition for inmates,” said Jeff Bouffard, associate criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. “The programs are promising, but every inmate is different and what works at one location may not work at another.”
Four Denton County inmates who took the GED test in October passed. Bedgood, Keller and five other inmates who took the test in early November also passed, said Tom Reedy, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department.
“All studies show a definite relationship between lack of education, poverty and crime,” Brackeen said in a statement. “The key to breaking the cycle is education, so that inmates can develop skills that will help them become a functioning part of the community. That helps to reduce recidivism and to decrease crime rates.”
GED testing is now scheduled on the first Friday of each month. Before they take the test, inmates who sign up for the program are given a diagnostic exam and must attend classes taught by volunteers and pass pretests.
Brackeen is working to establish a re-entry program to track the progress of the inmates after they leave the jail.
“The literacy programs and the GED testing programs offer the incarcerated individuals an opportunity to make good use of their time while they’re here and see tangible results for their efforts,” Denton County Assistant Chief Deputy Roy Davenport said in a statement.