10/03/07 — Fewer inmates: Think fixing education doesn’t matter? Price a new jail.

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Fewer inmates: Think fixing education doesn’t matter? Price a new jail.

Hopefully, you weren’t eating when you read today’s article about the cost of meeting the future needs of Wayne County’s jail population.

If you were, when you read the nearly $50 million price tag for the cheapest option — you probably had to have someone give you a slap on the back.

There is no question that this county will have to provide more facilities for inmates in the coming years. Projections suggest that crime is going to go up — not down. And while it is nice to say that we don’t care what living conditions are for those who break the law, the reality is that the state has standards and we, like every other county in North Carolina, will have to meet them.

So, that means a new capital budget that includes renovation funds for the jail.

While you are digesting that figure, a thought.

What if instead of dropping more money into housing those who break the law and are lost at very early ages, we poured money, resources and determination into making sure every student who leaves a Wayne County school has a chance at a future?

It won’t be easy. We will have to tell some parents that they are unfit and put them in jail if they do not “do right” by their children — and tell others that they cannot have more if they cannot care for the ones they have.

We will have to tell some students that if they cannot read or do basic math, they cannot move on to the next grade — or will stay in school until they master the skills they need.

And we will have to back teachers and administrators who put no tolerance policies on misbehavior, laziness and disruption in classrooms as well as other manifestations of irresponsibility.

In other words, we would have to hold everyone accountable — and mean it.

And, while we are at it, we need to provide better facilities, more materials and offer career-focused programs for those whose talents lie in the doing, not the academic.

Add to that a determination that shows the county’s students and those who have dedicated their lives to educating them that education is our top priority, and we can’t lose.

It is certainly cheaper than what it will cost to build another prison in another 10 years.

Published in Editorials on October 3, 2007 10:56 AM