Prison's purpose to teach skills, provide rehabilitation opportunities

LAWRENCEVILLE - In corrections systems nationwide, four goals are universal: Retribution, deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation.

The first three are accomplished in some degree by simply incarcerating an individual. Rehabilitation takes effort.

Gwinnett County Correctional Institution Deputy Warden Jeff Sligar said he doesn't like the term "retribution" and instead chooses to focus on the facility's mission statement of "encourag(ing) positive change and provid(ing) quality services that make a difference."

Making an offender feel like he's a part of something, teaching him job skills or helping him earn his GED go a long way in making sure he doesn't become part of a revolving door.

"Most of the jobs we have in the institution teach a skill set that can be used in the free world," Sligar said. "Whether janitorial, maintaining floors, kitchen work, laundry work - these are jobs they can do on the outside."

The bottom line, Sligar said, is that the vast majority of inmates have a release date and will be back in society someday.

"If we do our job well and we're doing it right, we're preparing them to get out of here from Day One," Sligar said.

While Sligar hopes to help inmates - and help them help themselves - he said they are also serving Gwinnett County through several work programs offered at the facility.

The 800-bed complex dedicates 512 beds for minimum- and medium-security state and county inmates assigned to supervised work crews. These inmates perform most janitorial and landscaping tasks at several county buildings as well as county roadways and parks.

The remaining 288 bed spaces are for work release inmates - called "residents" - who have fines, restitution or have failed to pay court-ordered child support. These residents will go to work during the day and spend their non-working hours in custody.

"That's beneficial in a number of ways," Sligar said. "The working resident can continue to maintain a household, still pay taxes and is not seeking public assistance. If they were incarcerated they would not have that option."

The county also provides a work alternative program for offenders sentenced to community service for minor offenses. Participants in this program perform many of the same tasks as county and state inmates, but aren't actually incarcerated. Participants report to the correctional institution in the morning for work, but go home at the end of the day.

Sligar said because of this program, citizens don't have to pay the cost of incarcerating an individual. In fact, those in the program - just as work release inmates do - pay administrative and daily fees that help offset up to 90 percent of the cost, Sligar said.

"They're not taking up a bed in jail or prison, and the taxpayers are not bearing the financial burden but they're getting the benefit of the work," Sligar said.