RICHMOND, Va. - More than 90 percent of the inmates in the Richmond City Jail are parents, according to Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody. The sheriff is now using those children to keep their parents out of jail - for good.
He has started parenting classes at the jail. In addition to learning financial and behavioral management skills, incarcerated fathers and mothers learn family values.
Errick Walker said he is taking the classes so he can be a better father when he gets out of jail.
"Before I got locked up, I would always say, 'I will not get locked up and have my daughter out there without a father,'" Walker said.
Walker is serving a two-year sentence for a drug possession charge.
Before he enrolled in the parenting class, Walker could only visit with his daughter once a month. He chose not to accept those visits because he and his daughter would be separated by jail glass.
However, because he is taking parenting classes, Walker now gets to spend face-to-face time with his 10-month-old daughter.
Walker is one of about a dozen male inmates who will get this opportunity to visit with his daughter.
The parenting program, which consists of non-violent offenders, meets several times a week.
"It cuts down on everything. It cuts down on crime. It cuts down on confusion. It makes them more responsible. It's a win-win for everybody," Sheriff Woody said.
Inmate Jessica Gentry is a mother of three with another child on the way. The 26-year-old mother has been in and out of jail at least five times on various drug charges.
"I always said I will never be like my mother. I will never ever put my children through this," Gentry lamented from behind bars. "And here I am, dragging them down the same road. Making them feel the same lost feelings of emptiness and without. And wanting to know why. And that's not fair. It's not."
Gentry said during her previous times in jail, she sat around and did nothing. She said the parenting program and imminent birth of her daughter has made this time served much different.
"This was to save my life, to save my children's lives. To save all of us," she said.
A study, conducted over a three-year period, showed inmates who participated in programs at the city jail had a reduced recidivism rate of more than 18 percent. The parenting course is just one of several courses taught at the Richmond City Jail to help inmates with recovery.
Sheriff Woody said he planned to make life and parenting classes mandatory for all inmates when they move into the new Richmond City Jail.