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      GED program for jail inmates

      A study done by the Pew Center on the States shows $50 billion is spent a year on corrections--yet four out of ten prisoners wind up back behind bars within three years.

      However, the Marinette County Jail is determined to tackle the challenge facing Americaâ??s correctional facilities. Officers hope their GED program will reduce the return of their released inmates.

      "In this economy, if they canâ??t get a job or go to school, they canâ??t move on," explains jail program officer Ellen Hanneman. "Many of them have no financial way of digging themselves out of a hole."

      Rather than simply serve their sentence inmates are taking advantage of the program. Chris Belland is 34 years old and has been incarcerated five times since he was 18 years old. Belland always felt his criminal record would hold him back, but after recently completing the program, he says he sees more than shackles in his life.

      "Now that I got the GED and I received high honors, I know that I can turn my life around from this point on," says Belland. "Itâ??s not about looking back on your record, it's about looking ahead."

      Belland is confident this will be his last time in jail and says "I have six more months to be incarcerated, after that Iâ??ll probably be enrolling for engineering."

      Since the program started five years ago, 100 inmates have graduated; most continue onto higher education and even full-time careers. The jail brings in volunteer instructors from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. When inmates are close to being released, the voluntary faculty helps them make the next step.

      "When they get out, they can either get into our programs or at least have a GED, ready for a job," says NWTC instructor Gary Johnson.

      Frank Collins was incarcerated five times at the Marinette County Jail but beat the revolving door, and hasn't returned since, when he finished his GED three years ago. He says heâ??s grateful to the program and the better life it provided him.

      "I wish I would have had the opportunity to do this ten years ago instead of waiting so long," Collins explains. "Now Iâ??m 39 years old, and it feels like just now I'm starting to get my career in gear."