prison.jpgA group of San Francisco jail inmates were honored and given high school diplomas today after graduating from an in-custody program.

The two dozen graduates, who included suspects awaiting murder trials as well as others accused or convicted of lesser crimes, graduated from the Five Keys Charter School and were celebrated at a ceremony at the Hall of Justice attended by their family and friends.

The school, based at the county jail in San Bruno with satellite sites around San Francisco and in Southern California, has helped more than 600 people graduate since being established in 2003, said executive director Steve Good.

Good said the program saves the city more than $1.5 million annually because graduates from the school have an average recidivism rate of 44 percent, well under the countywide rate of more than 60 percent.

“A lot of people intuitively think that the best way to treat people that have offended is to lock them up and throw away the key and just let them sit in jail,” he said.

“Somebody in jail is going to get out of jail, and I would personally rather see that person spend their time in jail working on their education and advancing themselves,” he said.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi also attended the ceremony and said the school is an example of the “restorative justice” he sought as a member of the Board of Supervisors and now as sheriff.

“While people do time, we want them to do time in a better way,” Mirkarimi said.

Frederick Releford, 49, who is awaiting sentencing on carjacking and robbery charges, thanked the program for improving his life.

“I’ve proven to myself that hard work and dedication is a wonderful feeling,” Releford said.

Some of the graduates honored today were murder suspects, including Willie Eason, who is one of several suspects awaiting trial for the fatal shooting of a German tourist near Union Square in 2010 and Antoine Grays, who is accused of a fatal shooting in the city’s Potrero Hill neighborhood in 2011.

A separate graduation ceremony was also held this afternoon for out-of-custody students at the school, according to sheriff’s officials.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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