HOUMA, La. (AP) — When Capt. Karla Beck became assistant warden at the Lafourche Parish jail, she thought creatively when it came to helping inmates re-enter society.
“There are some people who think we should just lock inmates up and throw away the key, but that’s not how our criminal justice system works,” Beck said. “People come in and pay for their crimes, and it’s our job to prepare them for re-entry back into society.”
Using donations from the Assumption Parish Art Guild, Lefevre’s Art Supply and Framing and Winner’s Circle of Lafourche, Beck recently organized an inmate art contest to showcase the talent within the jail’s walls.
The project meant a lot more than just doing arts and crafts to pass the time, she said.
“It’s not about inmate enjoyment,” Beck said. “It’s an opportunity of expression and that’s aimed at achieving our big-picture goal of our programs here. My background is in mental health counseling. I’ve been working with social-service programs for years. So when I came here to start up the new programs, I wanted to bring in something that hadn’t been done before.”
The art helps inmates improve their behavior and provides them a way to use their talent in a positive way, Beck said. They can also use their art to connect with family by sending it home to them.
“Art allows inmates to express their feelings and thoughts,” Beck said. “That in turn improves their behavior here. So, if we are teaching them methods of improving behaviors and giving them opportunities to do that within the walls of our facility that’s going to extend out to when they’re released into the community.”
Re-entry is one of the main focuses of the newly opened jail. Instead of locking up inmates in cells for extended periods, the facility emphasizes rehabilitation, education and mental health, officials said. The jail also educates inmates about parenting, job interviews and earning high school or higher education credits.
The overall goal is to reduce the number of repeat offenders, Beck said.
“Louisiana was the top in the nation for the number of incarcerated people and we’ve got to do something to change that,” she said.
Beck said the jail plans to use inmate artwork in the facility’s visitation rooms to provide a “comfortable, family friendly atmosphere, especially when children are visiting an incarcerated parent.”
“Our art program is just one of the many avenues that we’re implementing,” she said.
If anyone wants to get involved in one of the programs, email Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org.