Work Ethic Camp is changing lives

Monday, December 20, 2004

When the Work Ethic Camp in McCook first opened April 30, 2001, there were many distractors. It even reached the point, in 2003, that there was an attempt in the Nebraska Legislature to close the camp located on the northwest edge of McCook.

But, as time goes by, the camp is getting more time to prove itself. As it does so, a growing number of Nebraskans are discovering the value of a work ethic approach to criminal rehabilitation.

The most recent example is in Scotts Bluff County, where the jail has established an Inmate Community Work Program. Much as at the Work Ethic Camp in McCook, the Scotts Bluff program is based on the philosophy that manual labor builds character.

"Idle prisoners cause trouble," said Ron White, director of Scotts Bluff County Adult Corrections. "By giving them the opportunity to put in an honest day's work, they are learning life skills, improving their self-esteem, and they're giving back to the community."

That is much the same philosophy that inspired the Work Ethic Camp in McCook. "We are doing what we set out to do," said Raleigh Haas, the superintendent of the Work Ethic Camp throughout its existence. "We are providing structure, we are enhancing employability, we are offering learning opportunities, and we are giving substance abuse education."

In short, the Work Ethic Camp is attempting to change lives ... steering offenders away from a life of crime into productive roles in society.

So far 799 offenders have entered into the Work Ethic Program in McCook. Not all have finished the work and education program, but, of those who have, more than 85 percent have avoided a return to prison.

Not perfect, but far better than the success rate of previous programs. Of course, it's still early and much more tracking needs to be done. But early signs are encouraging enough to maintain ... and enhance ... the work ethic program.

Just sitting in a cell -- the jail warehousing approach -- is of little long-range value. Rehabilitation must be attempted because 97 percent of the people now in prisons will not be there for life.

They will return to society, and the best way to make that transition successful is through education and work ethic development. If allowed to continue and expand, the Work Ethic Camp in McCook could become a model for rehabilitation ... not only in Nebraska, but in all of America.

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