Ala. sheriff announces job training for jail inmates

The Renewed for Reentry Program is expected to be launched in September


By Carol Robinson
Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. - Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway on Monday announced a program aimed at making Jefferson County Jail inmates employable once they are released.

The Renewed for Reentry Program is expected to be launched in September, and partners with Lawson State Community College, the Dannon Project and the Steel Workers Trust, as well as multiple employers across central Alabama, to better equip offenders for entry back into the free world.

“This is one of the issues I campaigned on, that we make sure we address the revolving door. We’re looking to lower the recidivism rate right here in Jefferson County,’’ Pettway said. “We want to make sure those inmates who come into our facility have an opportunity to get an education and vocational skills. When they leave our facility, they have an opportunity to be employed. They’re not going back to the corner. They’re not going back to an area where they can harass you. They will be employed so they can take care of themselves, their families and they can be a productive citizen in society.”

Inmates eligible for the program, which is funded through a community grant, are those who are being held on non-violent offenses. Program officials will work with judges to identify those best suited for the program, and Pettway said Renewed for Reentry may also be used as a sentencing alternative.

Pettway said all instruction, training and even job interviews will be done on site at the county jail.

“We will give those inmates a chance to get an education and vocational skills,’’ the sheriff said. “They can use that to show the judge they want to do something better with their life. We will have a job available for them at the end, and their self-esteem will be highly changed.”

Dr. Perry Ward, president of Lawson State, said his school’s portion of the program will provide the classroom instructional programs, which is called Ready to Work. Basically, the five-week course teaches the inmates workforce protocol, which can be as simple as knowing to call in sick or late instead of just not showing up. “It’s very likely they’ve not been involved in a workforce environment for a long period of time, or perhaps at any point in time,’’ Ward said.

“They will learn to be successful in a work environment. That is critical to reducing recidivism,’’ Ward said. “We’re going to go through those fundamental things you need to know. That is a stepping stone to other higher skilled programs like welding, or HVAC , carpentry, any of those programs that will give the students a legitimate shot at being successful in life and that’s what this is all about.”

“I think we’ll be able to do that and really help Sheriff Pettway and the county meet their goals of reducing the recidivism rate,’’ he said. “We’re ready to make Sheriff Pettway’s dream become a reality.”

Wayne Heard, the Dannon Project’s reentry program manager, said the Dannon Project’s role will be to case management and to handle the initial assessments of the inmate students. “We will see if there are any barriers that would prevent them from being law-abiding citizens and from being employable upon release,’’ Heard said. “A key component is restorative justice, and those are classes that speak from the victims’ standpoint – compassion, and empathy - and making sure they put themselves in better positions upon release.”

Bart Maddox, business manager for Iron Workers Local 92, said he, too, is excited about the possibilities.

“Everybody in life is going to have a mistake somewhere,’’ he said. “I can guarantee you I’ve had my share of second chances, so we’re excited to give a young man or a young woman the opportunity to learn a trade where they can earn an honest pay day and instill in them that sense of pride, that sense of success, that sense of accomplishment. We’re looking for a lot of success stories coming out of this.”

©2019 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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