A Carroll County Prison inmate welds as part of a Welding & Joining Technology program taught at the prison by West Georgia Technical College.Ten inmates at the Carroll County Prison are learning a skill while incarcerated they hope will lead to a career once they’re released.
West Georgia Technical College, Carroll County and the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board have partnered to offer a Welding & Joining Technology program at the Carroll County Prison facility on Horsley Mill Road in Carrollton. Program leaders have plans to expand the number of inmates in the program in the coming months.
West Georgia Tech instructor Scott Eidson started holding formalized classes in a portable classroom last month, hoping his work with the inmates will “break the cycle” of recidivism, or repeated criminal behavior.
“Our goal is to stop the revolving door of individuals who enter the prison system, get released and wind up back in prison shortly after,” Eidson said. “A lot of these inmates lacked a direction in their life, which was a factor in their ending up here in prison. We want to make sure when they’re released that they have a direction and a viable career choice that won’t land them back here in a year.”
That’s what one inmate, who worked at an exhaust shop prior to being incarcerated, hopes.
“My whole purpose of taking these classes is to get certified in a new field I have very little experience in,” said the inmate, who preferred to remain anonymous. “Having this experience will open new doors for me, especially when I’m looking to regain employment after I’m released.”
The inmate said being able to tell potential employers that he spent his time in prison gaining a new skill would go a long way in selling himself to gain a position.
Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board is funding the 150-hour program through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Several pieces of equipment, as well as the portable classroom in which inmates work, were donated by the Technical College System of Georgia.
The first cohort of student inmates will complete the program in September.
“It’s a proven fact that the more educated you are, the less likely you are to re-offend or commit a crime,” Carroll County Prison Warden Robert Jones said. “When you look at some of these guys’ backgrounds, you can see that they have never been given opportunities to really improve themselves. We know that if they do not come back, then we did something right.”
Student inmates who complete the entire course will be certified in Gas Metal Arc/Flux Core Metal Arc Welding and Advanced Shielded Metal Arc Welding, Eidson said.
The class size is maxed out at 10, due to the work space the prison has, and a wait list is being filled for the next available class. Carroll County is requiring that inmates have a high school diploma or GED to participate.
Eidson starts the class with a basic welding program called flat stick welding.
“We build a broad foundation, starting with the most basic welding, and make sure everything is established safety-wise before we build off of our pyramid,” Eidson said. “After 10 weeks of learning the basics, we move onto an advanced course.”
West Georgia Tech Executive Vice President of Economic Development and Campus Relations Laura Gammage said the program aligns with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s emphasis on inmate re-entry.
“Gov. Deal has made criminal justice reform one of his priorities, and re-entry programs that prepare inmates for life after incarceration are an important part of that,” Gammage said. “We want to make sure West Georgia Tech’s resources are being used to their full potential in support of this initiative.”
Gammage said WGTC modeled the Carroll County program after a successful pilot run in Troup County in which the entire class of six inmates successfully completed the program and became certified by the American Welding Society.
“We knew this was a successful model based on our outcomes in Troup County,” she said. “We are certainly excited to see it working in Carroll County and we look forward to expanding the program here.”
Eidson said the prison and WGTC are committed to continuing their efforts to offer education and training for prisoners and preparing them to productively settle back into society, and that a few companies have already expressed interest in hiring the trained inmates once they’re released.
“That is what it is all about,” Eidson said. “We will not be successful with this program until these guys are employed, taxpaying citizens.”