Former inmates can face a dim future once they get out of jail, but six inmates at the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center (ADC) recently completed training that could better their chances for success after incarceration.
Leveraging funds from Virginia Community College System and the Virginia General Assembly, current ADC Work Release participants were able to attend the Heavy Equipment Operator Program at Lord Fairfax Community College. Using high-tech simulators, class participants were trained to become heavy equipment operators and earned an industry-recognized credential.
"It gives them a skill or trade so they can be marketable for employment to get better jobs and wages," Lt. Wilson Creighton-Bey, program manager for the ADC's work release facility, said of the program. "Inmates that leave the jail without a job, without training, a lot of times, they're set up for failure, because they're no better off than when they came in. A good job with a decent wage will keep them out of jail."
People who are released from jail are less likely to reoffend if they have gainful employment waiting when they get out.
"The opportunity and overall success of the program would not have been possible without such a unique and inspiring partnership," said Mouly Aloumouati, Fairfax County Department of Family Services (DFS) business services supervisor. "The SkillSource Group, Inc., DFS, as the local one-stop operator, Lord Fairfax Community College, the Heavy Construction Contractors Association of Manassas and the officers at the detention center all came together to help build these individuals up and provide them with an opportunity that promotes economic stability."
The chances are good that the inmates who completed the training program at the community college will find jobs.
"We feel like it's very important work to be able to provide services to individuals before they're even released," said Seema Jain, vice president of operations, SkillSource Group, Inc., a non-profit organization that helps people find jobs in Northern Virginia. "That way, they can be connected to our community employment centers that we have across the region. It gives them a better link to employment services even before they're released."
Connecting with employers is critical to the inmates getting work after they are released. The program also provided inmates the opportunity to get in front of potential employers as their training concluded.
"After the six-week training program, there were employers on site to interview on the last day of class," said Ann Hyslop, the Northern Virginia program director for Virginia Career Works.
The program was the first of its kind where inmates in a work-release program attended a course at a community college outside of the jail. Program partners agree that the training was successful.
"The participants were well prepared, eager to learn and asked excellent questions in every class," said Donna Comer, heavy equipment program manager of Lord Fairfax Community College. "They stayed on top of their studies, often jumping ahead in their online homework. The instructors and I were impressed with their dedication to the program and are proud to report that all participants successfully passed their certification exam."
There are roughly 4,000 unfilled jobs for heavy equipment operators in Northern Virginia created in part by construction on Interstates 95 and 66, and the jobs pay well. The 175 companies represented by the Heavy Construction Contractors Association are all looking to fill those jobs with graduates from the Lord Fairfax Community College program, which has been offered since 2017.
"In many cases there's an aggressive competition in who gets to hire the graduates," said Kenneth Garrison, executive director of the Heavy Construction Contractors Association. "These are good-paying jobs and valuable to keep."
Three of the inmates in the program have already landed jobs and will start work once they get out of jail.
"I was offered a job the day I get out making $18 an hour, which is about $6 an hour more than I was making before I got incarcerated," said Patrick Walsh, 40, who is scheduled to be released from the detention center in April. "The company I'm going to be working for said they're going to put me in an off-road dump truck. They said that within a few years the room for advancement is endless."
The Economic Equity Initiative grant awarded to the SkillSource Group, Inc., from the Virginia Community College System, and FastForward, a Virginia General Assembly Program, funded the training.