Inmate Charter School

Inmate Charter School: Innovation at its Best

For inmates, one of their biggest obstacles is receiving a quality education after becoming incarcerated.

While in the past options were available, many were not practical or not run effectively. Seeing a need to improve the educational opportunities for inmates in its jails, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has recently received another grant from Harvard University for its Five Keys Charter School. The program, founded in 2003 as the first charter school in a U.S. municipal jail, has made great strides toward reducing the recidivism rate of inmates who return to jail after being released. For example, while the statewide recidivism rate for those convicted of felonies in 2013 was 61 percent, San Francisco’s rate was less than half of that at only 28 percent. For those inmates who were unable to be bailed out of jail, Five Keys offers the chance to better themselves rather than simply sit there and be unproductive.

What Makes Five Keys Special?

Compared to other programs across the United States, Five Keys has gained a reputation for excellence that has been virtually unmatched. Open to both inmates who have not been able to be bailed out of jail as well as those who were bailed out and later convicted of their crimes, Five Keys has also expanded its programs to include former inmates who are now out on probation. The school, which won the grant from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, was chosen from more than 450 applicants nationwide. In addition to San Francisco, the Five Keys program has since expanded to other nearby areas including Los Angeles and Solano counties, demonstrating that its proven results have made people stand up and take notice.

The Keys to Five Keys Success

As with any successful educational program, there are numerous reasons for its success. One of the biggest reasons has been the school’s involvement with the local community, which has helped to spread the word among citizens about the commitment to education the Sheriff’s Department has regarding local residents who need a helping hand. Another key to success has been combining education with counseling, helping inmates gain a better understanding of how they wound up in jail and what it will take to stay out once they are released. Teachers and counselors help inmates recognize the poor decisions and bad mistakes made in the past, which helps them understand the impact of their crimes on themselves as well as their victims.

What’s Next for Five Keys?

Teachers and staff at Five Keys have been recognized by the city for their achievements, and the school is already planning future programs. For example, an additional 1-2 teachers will be hired thanks to the grant money, which will help serve even more inmates. Also on the list is working toward helping City Treasurer Jose Cisneros start a program that will provide college savings accounts to kindergartners, showing the city’s commitment to education. In the coming years, there’s little doubt Five Keys will find even more success.

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