Habersham sheriff on success of educational opportunities for jail inmates


“Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell is pleased that inmates at the county’s jail have access to educational, vocational, and self-improvement courses.

Through a partnership with Pay Tel Communications, the inmate telephone provider, Habersham County Detention Center inmates have access to more than 900 classes to help them upon release and hopefully reduce recidivism.

“I recently saw a statistic that formerly incarcerated individuals have a nationwide unemployment rate of 27%,” Terrell said. “I want to give the people in our custody the ability to make a better life for themselves after incarceration.”

The Pathway to Achieve program, provided by Pay Tel, offers tablet-based learning ranging from anger management to addiction recovery to parenting and career exploration.

The tablets are on a closed network without direct access to the Internet.

Since the jail implemented the program on Jan. 5, 2021, more than 1,500 inmates have been active learners, completing more than 19,000 hours and receiving more than two million credits for the 206,000 courses completed.

The average Habersham County Detention Center learner completes 137 courses, earning more than 1,400 credits. Average time spent per learner is almost 13 hours and the engagement rate is 86%.

Terrell said 27 inmates have completed all 167 GED prep courses through the program.

Upon initial login to the tablet, the learner takes a Risk/Need Assessment. The questions are designed to determine each inmate’s likelihood to reoffend and recommends courses to support behavior change.

Inmates earn credits for the coursework they complete, and the credits can be used to listen to music, play games, or watch family-friendly movies.

Inmates who are sentenced in court to take an anger management course, for example, can forward the course completion certificate to their attorney or probation officer.

In addition to the coursework, the tablets also feature a list of reentry resources available in the Habersham County area. The guide is designed to help make reentering the community more manageable.

It provides a listing of places that can assist with some of life’s basic necessities, like housing, food, and clothing.

Anyone who needs support can access these resources online at www.rise4me.com.

The tablets are provided by Pay Tel at no cost to the sheriff’s office or Habersham County taxpayers. Additionally, there is no cost for the inmates to take the courses.

Currently, there are 183 tablets in the facility.

“The busier the inmates are, the better,” said Lt. Amber Chastain, jail commander. “Tablets help calm everyone down, resulting in an environment that is more tranquil, less anxious, and less aggressive.”

Dr. Thomas Dearden, an assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Tech, has done extensive research on recidivism and his findings support Chastain’s observations.

“Providing inmates with free educational opportunities can yield many benefits, including calmer, safer detention environment, reduced costs to jails and increased value to the local community,” Dearden said.

Providing educational opportunities and skills training is a key part of reducing recidivism.

“The content on these tablets can help inmates build a foundation for success,” Terrell said. “It will have a significant positive impact on our society and our community now and in the future.””