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4 years ago

Alabama prisons offer inmates education and a way to start fresh

Inmates learning to weld (c/o Alabama NewsCenter)
Inmates learning to weld (c/o Alabama NewsCenter)

By John Herr

Welders wielding blowtorches. Students repairing air conditioners. An instructor teaching administrative office skills.

It could be a vocational school anywhere in the U.S. But it’s not.

This is J.F. Ingram State Technical College, one of the only community colleges in America exclusively serving men and women serving time.

Headquartered in Deatsville, the school was established by the Legislature 50 years ago to give prisoners practical skills in preparation for their release into society. But its vision goes much further.

“Why do we exist? To develop responsible citizens,” said Ingram State President Hank Dasinger. “Job training is not all that we do and, for many students, it’s arguably not the most important service we provide.”

Ingram State serves prisoners from numerous locations: Elmore, Draper and Staton Correctional Facilities in Elmore; Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery; Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka; Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer; Alabama Therapeutic Educational Facility (ATEF) in Columbiana; and the Main Campus adjacent to the Frank Lee Work-Release Center in Deatsville.

Its programs include automotive mechanics, masonry, plumbing, electrical technology, drafting and design and horticulture. Carpentry and cabinetmaking are offered too, as evidenced by the new hickory desks in the state Senate chamber, built by Ingram students.

A recent tour through Tutwiler found a classroom filled with women learning about quadratic equations as they studied for their high school equivalency certificates.

Next door, inmate welders fired up their blowtorches. Down the hall, budding beauticians styled hair in a fully equipped salon.

A few miles away at Ingram’s main campus, inmates bused in from other facilities attended their own courses. One of the most sought-after is HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). And it has a familiar patron.

“Alabama Power is a huge, huge education partner for HVAC,” said Ingram State HVAC instructor Stan Humphries as he pointed to a large machine donated by the company.

“A lot of school systems don’t have the finances to purchase equipment or have access to newer model equipment,” said Alabama Power’s Training Center Manager Joel Owen. “We’re able to make that happen based on our relationships and interactions with the industry, so more people get hands-on training to become employable in the workforce.”

The company assists in other ways. “As an instructor, I can go to any of Alabama Power’s training courses for free,” Humphries said. “All I have to do is buy my study material. That’s invaluable.”

“We feel like we’re training our future,” said Owen. “Hopefully they’ll be productive in society and not do something that will put them back in.”

Studies show that education and skills training do indeed reduce recidivism. Prisoners who took education programs while incarcerated are 43 percent less likely to re-offend than those who do not. Inmates in vocational training programs are 28 percent more likely to obtain post-release employment, according to the RAND Corp.

This is critical. About twice as many state and federal inmates compared to the general population lack a high school diploma or equivalency certificate. Many are also unfamiliar with the day-to-day routine of work that other citizens take for granted.

“One of the things we are trying to weave into all of our programs is the importance of soft skills,” said fawn Romine, workforce development coordinator for the college. “Employers believe that if they’ve got somebody who shows up and is dependable, they can train them for the specific job.”

“We help them navigate the challenges of life,” said Dasinger.

One of the biggest challenges Ingram State faces is funding. The Legislature this year proposed a 3 percent cut in the Department of Corrections (DOC) budget. This comes on the heels of a 12.5 percent reduction in funding for prison education a few years ago, which hit Ingram State hard.

In April, DOC Commissioner Jefferson Dunn warned that the cuts would necessitate closing the Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton, which specializes in substance abuse treatment, as well as the Red Eagle Community Work Center in Montgomery.

Alabama has the nation’s fourth-highest incarceration rate. Already at 185 percent of capacity, the prison population would have swollen to 222 percent under the budget proposal, which Gov. Robert Bentley vetoed in June.

“We know that somewhere between 95 and 98 percent of everybody incarcerated in a federal or state penitentiary today is going to be let out,” said Dasinger. “So the best investment is on the front end while they’re behind wires, to try to give them the life, vocational and other kind of skills they need to be successful.”

This was the message conveyed at a recent DOC community meeting in Wetumpka. Mayors, wardens and DOC officials agreed that education and training on the inside can lead to a better and safer transition to the outside.

“DOC has taken an interest in this,” said Leon Forniss, warden of the Elmore Correctional Facility. “Getting intervention while in prison, getting education and a skill they can feel proud of.”

Dasinger said taxpayers save on every inmate who is released and does not return.

“In other words, we’re a good business model,” he said.

2 hours ago

Auburn Police officer shot in the line of duty

An Auburn Police Department officer was shot in the line of duty Friday evening.

Sources reportedly confirmed the shooting to WVTM. The condition of the officer was not immediately known.

The shooting occurred at the Dollar General near Niffer’s Place off of Opelika Road.

WSFA was on the scene live in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, which resulted in a massive police presence. The suspect is believed to still be at-large, with a “manhunt” underway.

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This comes after Birmingham Police Department Sgt. Wytasha Carter and Mobile Police Department Officer Sean Tuder were shot and killed in the line of duty in recent weeks.

This is breaking news and may be updated.

Update 8:00 p.m.:

WSFA posted a new live stream.

Update 8:15 p.m.:

Police administrators told reporters the incident occurred shortly after 5:30 p.m. as the officer pulled the suspect’s vehicle over responding to an armed robbery call. The officer was talking and alert when he left the scene. More on his condition was not released by law enforcement on the scene. The officer was shot “multiple” times. His name has also not been released.

The suspect is Christopher James Wallace. He is 38 years old. A female was in the vehicle with Wallace at the time of the shooting. Her name is not being released at this time.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Del Marsh on Trump declaration: ‘It is an emergency — It is about protecting this country’

Alabama Senate leader Del Marsh (R-Anniston) voiced his support for President Donald Trump’s latest action on border security while blaming Democrats for their inability to fix the long-standing issue.

In an interview with Yellowhammer News, Marsh said he supports Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency along the Mexican border.

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Marsh explained that the urgency of the threat made it necessary.

“It is an emergency,” Marsh stated. “It is about protecting this country. That’s where the threat is. The threat is the southern border. All our borders should be secure. But the threat right now is the southern border. No one can deny that.”

When asked where border security should rank among the country’s priorities, Marsh said border security should be number one.

And he expressed frustration at how policy-makers have approached the issue.

“I cannot for the life of me understand how people in Congress can put people who are not citizens of this country above our citizens’ welfare, and that’s what I see happening,” he remarked.

He cited a single reason why, in his mind, the issue of border security has gone on for so long without resolution.

“Politics,” Marsh declared.

Specifically, he believes Democrats view illegal immigration as providing a pool of potential new voters and that has threatened national security.

“They have put that above the safety of the citizens of this country,” he said. “Democrats are basically saying, ‘Don’t worry about a process. Come on! We’re your buddies!’”

Marsh also pointed out the fact that he has already filed a bill in the Alabama legislature to allow Alabamians to help build the wall.

The legislation would provide taxpayers the option of checking a box on their tax returns should they want to donate to We Build the Wall, Inc.

Marsh has already donated to the fund himself.

“It’s about sending a message to this president, President Trump, that we support him and by sending these dollars to build the wall, showing our support for him,” he explained. “I believe it and I think the people of Alabama believe that security is the most important thing, the most important issue at this point in time. We want to support the wall, and we want to see the wall built.”

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News.

3 hours ago

Alabama Supreme Court reinstates Alabama Memorial Preservation Act

Attorney General Steve Marshall announced Friday that the Alabama Supreme Court has granted the state’s motion to stay a recent “[erroneous]” Jefferson County Circuit Court judgment that declared the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017 to be unconstitutional.

This means the law, which prohibits the removal and alteration of monuments more than 40 years old on public property, will still be in effect while the state appeals the decision. Marshall requested the stay three weeks ago.

“I am pleased that the Alabama Supreme Court has granted the State’s motion to stay the Circuit Court’s ruling,” the attorney general said in a statement. “We think that U.S. Supreme Court precedent clearly demonstrates that the Circuit Court erred in striking down the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. Thus, we asked the Alabama Supreme Court to preserve the status quo regarding the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Linn Park until the Court rules on our appeal.”

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It was reported that the City of Birmingham was considering removing the monument at the center of the controversy after the law was struck down. The Sailors Monument has been covered by a large black wall since August 2017, near the end of former Mayor William Bell’s tenure.

“The Supreme Court’s stay allows the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act to remain in effect until the Supreme Court resolves this appeal over the Act’s constitutionality. We continue to hold that the Circuit Court erred when it ruled that the U.S. Constitution grants cities free speech rights that they can enforce against the State,” Marshall added. “For more than a century, the U.S. Supreme Court has held just the opposite, recognizing that ‘a political subdivision, created by the state for the better ordering of government, has no privileges or immunities under the federal constitution which it may invoke in opposition to the will of its creator.’ We look forward to presenting these arguments to the Alabama Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court’s order Friday also stayed the accrual of any financial penalties under the law.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

David Cole departs Alabama Farmers Federation for BCA

The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) is adding another star to its governmental affairs team.

Shortly after breaking BCA’s hiring of Molly Cagle from Manufacture Alabama, sources confirmed to Yellowhammer News that Alabama Farmers Federation Director of State Affairs David Cole is coming on board at the same time.

Cole, like Cagle, is joining BCA’s governmental affairs staff effective February 28, just in time for the March 5 start of the state legislative session. Most recently, Cole spearheaded the federation’s lobbying efforts in the Alabama House of Representatives.

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Sources confirmed to Yellowhammer News Friday that federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan sent out an email announcing Cole’s departure and thanking him for his commitment to Alabama agriculture — the state’s biggest industry. Pinyan also outlined how the staff would be moved around in response to Cole leaving.

Director of External Affairs Matthew Durdin – and his staff members, Director of Agricultural Legislation Preston Roberts and administrative assistant Jessica Mims – will now be involved in some state governmental affairs work. Former Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman, who has been working as a political consultant for the federation, will now add governmental affairs work on contract.

An official announcement with details of the federation’s staff changes is expected to be released in the coming week.

Update, 6:15 p.m.:

BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt announced the two major additions in an internal email sent out to the business council’s leadership Friday evening. Britt took the reigns of BCA January 2. Cagle and Cole are her first hires.

The email detailed that Cole is being named senior vice president of governmental affairs and Cagle vice president of governmental affairs.

“These two additions to our team position the BCA to serve our members and advocate effectively on behalf of the business community,” Britt wrote.

Mark Colson, who most recently filled in as BCA’s interim president after serving as chief of staff and senior vice president for governmental affairs, will continue to serve the organization in his new role as senior advisor through the transition period.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

Molly Cagle joining BCA from Manufacture Alabama

One of Alabama’s rising stars in the governmental affairs world is on the move.

Sources confirmed to Yellowhammer News Friday that Manufacture Alabama (MA) Director of External Affairs Molly Cagle has accepted a governmental affairs position with the Business Council of Alabama (BCA). While an exact title has yet to be released, Cagle is expected to bolster BCA’s legislative affairs team.

The hire marks the first in BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt’s tenure. She was hired by the organization’s executive committee in December and took office January 2.

Cagle’s last day at MA is February 20, according to an email from her to the association’s membership obtained by Yellowhammer News.

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“My time at Manufacture Alabama over the last four and a half years has been incredibly rewarding. The friendships, lessons, and advice are things that I cherish and will take with me throughout my career,” she wrote.

Cagle comes to BCA with an impressive track record in legislative work, including past service as the Senate Liaison for Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh. She received her bachelor’s in Political Science, with a minor in Broadcast Journalism, from Troy University.

Named to Yellowhammer Multimedia’s “Power and Influence: Who’s Next?” list for 2018, Cagle will be a major addition to BCA as the organization refocuses on its pro-jobs mission of “making a sweet home for business” in Alabama.

Cagle’s email noted, “As I prepare to take on my new role, I want to assure everyone that the staff at Manufacture Alabama has taken the steps to make my departure as seamless as possible. A special thank you to George Clark for his guidance and support not only over the last several years but also throughout this process.”

The state legislative session begins March 5.

As of Friday at 2:30 p.m., BCA had taken down its online staff directory. An official announcement of the hire is expected in the coming days.

Update, 6:15 p.m.:

Cagle is being named BCA’s vice president of governmental affairs.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn