Second chances behind bars

Inmates in Henry County graduated with certificates in welding and other skills

Katy Verity, Contributing Writer

In Henry County, Georgia, a new program is helping to provide inmates with the skills needed to enter the workforce after they are released from incarceration. In late March, six inmates graduated with certificates that will make it significantly easier for them to get jobs after serving their sentences. After completing the 100-hour-long program, each inmate was awarded with certifications in welding, forklift operation, CPR and other technical skills.  

The main goal of this program is to work to reduce recidivism. Recidivism is a term that refers to the tendency of those who have entered the prison system once to “relapse” or re-offend, thus reentering the prison system shortly after each time they are released. This program aims to keep current Henry County inmates from becoming repeat offenders after serving their current sentences.  

From 2008 to 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted a study to investigate whether former prisoners would re-offend. The study, led by Dr. Leonardo Antenangeli and Matthew R. Durose, followed released prisoners over the course of a 10-year period. 

“Among persons released from state prisons in 2008 across 24 states, 82% were arrested at least once during the 10 years following release,” Antenangeli and Durose said. “The annual arrest percentage declined over time, with 43% of prisoners arrested at least once in Year 1 of their release, 29% arrested in Year 5, and 22% arrested in Year 10.” 

The program in Henry County aims to address this trend. The idea is that if inmates are taught technical skills, they are going to have an easier time landing a job once they are no longer incarcerated. The opportunity to participate in this kind of program is something that these inmates would have been unlikely, or unable, to pursue on their own. However, they have been able to make good use of their time behind bars to better prepare for their futures. 

Inmates who have been charged with misdemeanors are eligible to fill out an application to enroll in the program. The Henry County Sheriff’s Office partnered with WorkSource Atlanta Regional in 2022 to implement this program.

Henry County Sheriff Reginald Scandrett spoke with 11Alive in late March. He told them that Henry County wants to change lives with this program. 

“The overall goal is to stop someone from a life of crime because that’s all that they know,” Scandrett said. “If we can input some additional knowledge and education, we can change one life at a time.” 

In addition to changing the lives of these individual prisoners, this program helps to increase the skill set of the American workforce. Technical skills, such as welding, are in high demand. The Henry County Jail is both decreasing the number of individuals cycling through the prison system and  working to add to the local workforce by  producing  more working individuals with a specific skill set. 

Senior political science major Tristan Hooper sees this program as beneficial. 

“I think it sounds like a great idea,” Hooper said. “It’s shown — that prisoners, oftentimes when they get out, they struggle to find work. So, if they’re able to find a way to advance their career, even while they’re in detainment, I think that that’s good for everyone.” 

This program has proved successful so far, and more inmates have been working on completing this program. If these sorts of programs increased in popularity in prison systems across the state and the country, it could put a significant dent in the recidivism problem America faces. Providing those who have struggled in life with the skills and opportunities to pick themselves up increases the likelihood that they will turn their lives around for the better.