CLARK COUNTY — Joshua Jenkins said he plans to make this stay in the Clark County jail his last.
The Jeffersonville resident said he’s been incarcerated six or seven times this year on drug charges — he’s currently being held pretrial in several cases. But a pilot program at the jail in job training and certifications may give Jenkins and other inmates an opportunity to stop that cycle, and it’s a chance he’s not going to pass up.
“This will help because [for] a lot of people, [jail] is a revolving door most of the time,” he said. “It’s like we come in, we get out out…where do we go when we get out? This gives us something to look forward to.”
A HEAD START TO RELEASE
Jenkins and 10 other men are participants in Skills for Success, an intensive, two-week course hosted by Purdue University to help prepare them for careers in manufacturing after they’re released from jail. Upon completion of the program, they receive a Purdue Certificate of Learning, an OSHA 10 Certification and a MSSC CPT Quality & Measurement Certification.
It costs just over $2,000 per student for the two-week class, and is funded through grants. The pilot class was open to men only, but there are plans to expand it to women as well.
Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel said the new program, the result of a partnership between the jail, sheriff’s office, the state of Indiana and Purdue, is a great addition to what he sees as a growing list of resources to help people succeed when they’re released.
“The same goal of all our programs is for an inmate to better [him- or herself] while they’re in jail, or at least be offered that opportunity,” Noel said. “And when they get out, to be able to get a job, to re-assimilate quickly and live normal lives, and hopefully we don’t see them back in jail.”
The jail has long offered programs for inmates to get their GED, and Noel said they’re seeing significant numbers of people obtain them while incarcerated — more than 260 a year, on average for the last several years. The jail currently has around 600 inmates, about a third of which are women.
“We’re pretty excited about these programs,” Noel said. “The goal is when an inmate leaves here is hopefully we give them some tools that they don’t come back.”
Jenkins said while the class can be challenging at times, it’s is beneficial as long as people apply themselves. So far, that’s been everyone who started it — no one has dropped out of the voluntary program. The last day of class is Friday, when the students will take a final exam.
“I know I’m motivated to get out and straight go put this on an application, just to eliminate myself from coming back in here,” Jenkins said. “Because the cycle we all go through [is] tough on us.”
He said he hopes the classes can help him and others who are eligible — non-violent offenders who have a GED or at least an eighth-grade math level — have something positive to look forward to upon release, so they can begin to rebuild their lives.
“It’s a pretty good program as far as motivating inmates to seek something other than what got them in here before,” he said.
CHANGING POINT OF VIEW
At one point, people leaving jails and prisons got little more than a phone call when they were released, Noel said. But Clark County law enforcement say they see the benefits in providing opportunities for growth.
And at the state level, the Indiana Department of Correction has also amped up resources for inmates, including programs for job skills training through partnerships with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and the U.S. Department of Labor.
And some of that might be realized in Clark County. Noel said he’s been in talks with the IDOC about taking part in a program they offer through Ivy Tech, which could benefit some of the people with level 6 felony convictions that are IDOC inmates but housed at the county jail.
“The bottom line is we want what’s best for the community and we know doing these programs … that they’re less likely to re-offend and come back to jail,” he said. The GED program itself has helped lower the recidivism rate in Clark County, he said, even as drug issues have resulted in more arrests.
A WORTHWHILE OPPORTUNITY
Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 Judge Vicki Carmichael helped connect Purdue folks with the sheriff and his staff, after she was contacted by a school representative several months ago.
When she took it to Noel and Clark County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Col. Scottie Maples, they were on board right away, she said, and could already think of people who could be good candidates for the class.
“I think they see the value of giving people in the jail something positive to do,” Carmichael said. “To get them a learned behavior modification they might not get.
“This is going to hopefully give them a skill that they can use … where once they are released from custody, they can join the workforce and become contributing members of society.”
And while a specific amount of time has not been determined, she and other judges in the county plan to be able to offer the inmates time cuts for the class. It may be somewhere between 30 days and six months, she said.
Jenkins said that other people have taken note of the class he and a dozen others have been going to for eight hours a day for the last two weeks, asking what it’s like, saying they want to sign up next time.
“They want to look forward to something when they get out,” Jenkins said. “Seeing how we’re excited about it excites them — that we get the opportunity to put our minds to good use in here.”