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EBI: A Better Way To Incarcerate


Education Based Incarceration (EBI) is a component of the criminal justice system that is focused on deterring and mitigating crime by investing in its offenders through education and rehabilitation.

Sheriff Lee Baca recently developed the EBI program as a way to reduce recidivism. To quote the Sheriff, "The uneducated mind will predictably live in a threatened and limited way." EBI's goal is to prepare an inmate for re-entry into a normal life, and find a desire to continue a productive life, outside of jail. This is accomplished by teaching inmates life skills such as how to write a resume, how to interview for a job, anger management, personal accountability, and service, to name a few.

Inmates do not have to be involved in the M.E.R.I.T. Program to participate in EBI classes. Many M.E.R.I.T. inmates partake in the learning but it was mostly developed for General Population Inmates. The teaching is not limited to credentialed teachers either. Anyone can teach an EBI class, even inmates! The graduates of the M.E.R.I.T. Program, called M.E.R.I.T. Masters, teach EBI classes daily.

At South Facility, one Senior Deputy, organized, and taught the first structured EBI class, which lead to the first EBI graduation in February 2012. His energy and material kept the inmates engaged and desiring more. One inmate wrote about the class, "This was very contagious and began to spread by word of mouth, and our class grew. And so did our appetites. We all wanted more and we opened up more."

During one inmate's graduation speech we heard, "I was a skeptic at first. When I first heard of EBI I thought it was just an attempt by the Sheriff's Department to meet a quota and say they were doing something to help inmates. So, at first, I didn't check into it. But I heard that an instructor, brought authentic zeal to the class. So I went one night. I thought, 'Who was this Deputy who had a passion for teaching?' He talked like Wyatt Earp and, on occasion, banged his fist on a table to get our attention. He walked around the jail compound like John Wayne. I haven't missed a meeting since. We actually had meaningful dialogue with the Sheriff's Department, with them on our side. Now there's no excuse for us!"

I was sort of skeptical myself. I assumed there was a hard line between law abiding citizens and law breakers. One inmate I spoke to, who was not involved in EBI or M.E.R.I.T., nor was he interested in the program, said something interesting. He said, "You have your parties and we have ours. You get high with your friends, I get high with mine." He didn't believe there was anything wrong with his lifestyle. He was proud of his gang affiliation and he didn't care who he victimized. He assumed, as I did, that there was an uncross-able line between his life and my life.

I spoke to a couple of inmates who took the class because I wanted to see the results of EBI in action. One inmate related how his crimes progressed each time he went to jail. He said that he eventually started selling drugs to make tuition at S.C. Film School. When he got out of jail, his greed, coupled with the allure of easy money, was enough to keep him selling drugs. He didn't believe his actions were wrong. He thought he was doing a service for others and that the law prohibiting drugs was wrong. It wasn't until he was in EBI that he learned how drug use affects more than just the drug users and why it is illegal.

Another inmate related how he started his path to criminal activity by stealing gas when he was a young drunk 18 year old. He had several DUIs, parole violations, and he graduated to drug sales as well. He said most of his activities involved alcohol but he learned through EBI to take responsibility for his choices.

Perhaps the best example of EBI's success was one inmate who related how, as a 15 year old, he was already committing burglaries, robberies, grand theft auto, and selling cocaine. He was gang affiliated and had aspirations to work his way up through the Mexican Mafia. He said that he knew his actions were wrong but the people he associated with equated these behaviors with "being a man". He stated that he didn't even care how his victims were affected. He started EBI classes as a way to reduce his time in jail. He said the classes opened his understanding. He started to see his extreme selfishness and was humbled, eventually being reduced to tears. He said he now walks the yard and sees other gangsters he knew from the streets. He still says hello but can't help but feeling disgusted that he used to feel the way they do. He worked his way through the M.E.R.I.T. program and became a M.E.R.I.T. Master. He will be released in about a week and will be moving with his mother to Washington. He wants to get away from the lifestyle that surrounded him on the outside. He will get his tattoos removed and hopefully continue an education with the continued help of the M.E.R.I.T. Program.

Pitchess Detention Center, South Facility

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

29330 The Old Road

Castaic, CA 91384

(661) 295-8805

Inmate Info: (213) 473-6100


Inmates Learning
Inmates Learning

Senior Deputy teaching EBI.
Senior Deputy teaching EBI.

A better way to incarcerate.
A better way to incarcerate.

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