While inmates are in the Adult Detention Center, they have a couple of ways to spend their free time. One is to get involved in the wide variety of classes and rehabilitative programs, but inmates can also choose to stay in their cells or dayrooms to watch television, or play cards and board games.
The best option for both the inmate and our community, according to the Sheriff’s Office, is to encourage classes and programs. These programs are provided through a partnership with nonprofit organizations, government agencies and private entities, which includes more than 300 community volunteers.
“We need to give our inmates the best chance of successfully re-entering our community and living independent, productive lives,” says Sheriff Stacey Kincaid. “The more tools we give them while they are in jail, the less likely they are to commit another crime post-release and return to jail.”
The Adult Detention Center contains a leisure library, which is staffed by a librarian. The librarian and two inmate trustees put selected books on a mobile cart and visit every cell block at least once a week for delivery and collection.
Inmates can also participate in a book club. At times, club members read the same book. Alternatively, they read different books of the same genre or by the same author. For example, during Black History Month in February, each inmate in the men’s group chose a book either by a black author or about a famous black American. The next month, the group read different books by John Grisham.
Robert Paxton, who manages the jail library, has a passion for participating in the rehabilitative efforts of the inmates. “If I can help one person become a better reader while they are staying here, then I’ve done my job,” he says.
Although many books are donated by the Fairfax County Public Library, Paxton always welcomes other donations to ensure a wide selection of choices and multiple copies of popular books. No hardback covers are allowed. Magazines with no staples are also needed. If you are interested in donating, email email@example.com.
Regardless of their learning level, inmates without a high school diploma or equivalency are eligible for education programs through the jail’s partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools. Inmates who test below third grade can gain basic literacy skills in the Education Learning Lab, run by a volunteer. Inmates who are 18-22 years old and test at the third-grade level or higher can work toward their high school diploma. Inmates of any age can participate in the GED (General Educational Development) program through the Adult High School. For inmates whose primary language is Spanish, pre-GED and GED classes in Spanish are offered.
The GED tests offered inside the jail are the same as what is available on the outside. A jail-based education team helps inmates transition to the GED or Alternative School programs on the outside if they are released before attaining their high school credentials.
Inmates are also encouraged to take advantage of dozens of different self-improvement classes and programs, such as employability and workplace skills, keyboarding, financial planning, responsible parenting, anger management and the impact of crime.
Most life skills programs are conducted by volunteers who come to the Sheriff’s Office through Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources (OAR), Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board and faith-based organizations. OAR’s case managers also identify inmates who are within 120 days of release and pair them with services such as housing, job training, transportation and health care. The case managers follow up with them after release to assist them with job placement and other needs.
The detention center provides religious services, programs and mentoring to meet the spiritual needs of a diverse inmate population. Inmates are permitted to practice their respective religions as long as it does not intrude upon the rights of others or pose a threat to the order and security of the jail. Weekly religious services include Protestant worship and Catholic mass – in both English and Spanish – and Islamic Jumah.
In partnership with the Fairfax Re-entry Council, the Sheriff’s Office holds two resource fairs each year to help inmates plan for their transition back to the community. About 20 vendors representing public, private, faith-based and non-profit entities gather in the detention center gym with display tables, brochures and applications. Approximately 200 inmates attend each fair and learn about the housing, employment, insurance, health care, education and other resources that they will need upon release.
If you have experience teaching or counseling in any of the areas above and are interested in volunteering with inmates, you can create an account in the county’s Volunteer Management System and enroll in one of the four Sheriff’s Office advertised opportunities. For more information, call 703-246-2845 (TTY 711).