Opening Doors through Literacy

July 28, 1994

Learning to read can open new doors, the saying goes, and some inmates at the Central Laundry Correctional Facility in Sykesville are hoping that will truly be the case.

The Literacy Council of Carroll County is launching a program that will use inmates at the 500-bed medium security facility to teach other inmates how to read.

Under a grant from the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores, volunteers from the county's Literacy Council will teach selected educated inmates at the Central Laundry how to tutor others in reading, phonics, writing and math. Eight inmates have already volunteered for the 16 hours of tutor training that will enable them to teach their illiterate fellow inmates.

"We hope that it will instill in those that are tutors the desire to be helpful to others rather than hurtful to others," says Marsha Maloff, administrator of the correctional facility. "It's good for their self-esteem."

The laundry already has a school program designed to help inmates earn their high school graduate equivalency diplomas, or GEDs. The tutoring effort will concentrate on those not in the school program, and those in the program who need special assistance. But inmates must volunteer for the help to be assigned a tutor, who will be supervised by Literacy Council members.

Lack of basic education is a common characteristic of the nation's inmates. Some 65 percent of those incarcerated in federal penal facilities are considered functionally illiterate, notes Marian Carr, executive director of the Carroll County Literacy Council; the level of illiteracy rises to 85 percent for juvenile delinquents in detention facilities, she says.

The Sykesville penal facility's tutoring program will focus on inmates who have enough time remaining in their sentences to participate for at least half a year.

Most of the men at the Central Laundry on Buttercup Road, which provides laundry services for state agencies and other penal facilities, have completed at least 40 percent of their sentences. The state prison is designed to prepare inmates for release back into society.

"It gives those on the high end a chance to do something productive with their lives, and it gives those on the lower end a chance to learn," observed Ms. Carr, admirably summarizing the program's estimable opportunities.

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