PLATTE CITY, Mo. — In the first year of a program designed to help jail inmates earn diplomas in Platte County, the Sheriff’s Office said it’s already graduated 15 people.

The goal is to make it less likely that those graduates would end up back behind bars. The Sheriff’s Office is working with A Turning Point Academy, allowing the inmates to earn a full diploma, which can me more helpful than GED once those inmates are released.

“Depending on what type of career they want to get into, there are some careers that don’t accept GEDs the way they accept high school diplomas,” said Platte County Undersheriff Major Erik Holland.

The diploma program can be started in the prison but finished in another facility, or while the inmate is out on bond or released, allowing them to finish the program regardless of their status.

It also changed the jail’s intake program to collect information about which level of education they completed so that their classes can be tailored to their needs.

Holland said of the 15 people who have completed the program, some had only a few classes to complete while others still had to cover most of the high school curriculum.

“We’ve got to get away from the idea that all we do in the criminal justice system is punish people,” said Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd.

That’s why he said programs like this one make a difference and why his office launched a slightly similar program for first-time offenders.

Zahnd said there are some people the criminal justice system shouldn’t allow to re-enter society again, “but there are a whole lot more people who have maybe made a mistake but the best thing we can do for them is to help them improve their lives and that’s what we try to do with this program.”

Multiple studies show educational opportunities like this drastically reduce the chance that someone will end up back in jail or prison after they get out, but Major Holland points out they even behave better before they’re released.

“We have seen a significant drop in disciplinary problems from inmates that have participated in or completed the program,” Holland said.

Which is important in a jail that already regularly has more than 200 inmates but only 180 beds for them.

The program has such an impact that at least two inmates in the jail have requested for their sentencing to be delayed because they were so close to wrapping up their diploma requirements.