6 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.

13 hours ago

Alabama’s Jessica Taylor launches NextGen Conservatives PAC to help Republicans retake U.S. House in 2022

Jessica Taylor on Tuesday officially launched “NextGen Conservatives PAC” in an effort to elect the next generation of conservative leaders to important offices across the United States.

Taylor, a native of the Yellowhammer State, ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in Alabama’s Second Congressional District this past cycle, narrowly missing out on making the GOP primary runoff.

During that bid — her first time running for office — Taylor made national news when she co-founded the “Conservative Squad” to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and her “Socialist Squad.”

A release on Tuesday outlined that as a freshman candidate, Taylor “realized the necessity of strength by numbers to combat the threat the far left poses to the very threads of our democracy.”

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Her latest political action committee is designed to act further on this realization.

“After jumping into the political arena as a congressional candidate and co-founding the Conservative Squad, my campaign message grew into my mission – to elect a new generation of conservative leaders to office across America,” stated Taylor.

“NextGen Conservatives PAC will provide a voice and a platform for younger generations to learn about and embrace the conservative ideals that founded this country and continue to make it the greatest country in the world,” she continued. “We will support and amplify the voices of the next generation of conservative leaders and support them in their efforts to become elected leaders.”

The PAC’s website says the vision of NextGen Conservatives is: “To ensure a free and prosperous United States of America through new conservative leadership.”

Tuesday’s released advised, “The 2020 cycle was a resounding success for conservative women and the next generation of Republican leaders with every flipped seat in the House of Representatives going to a woman, minority, or veteran. NextGen Conservatives is capitalizing on that same momentum to ensure a conservative majority in the U.S. House in 2022.”

Candidates endorsed by NextGen Conservatives PAC will reportedly receive a direct financial contribution, fundraising support and additional support from the group’s independent expenditure arm. “Endorsed candidates are thoroughly vetted for their viability and strong conservative credentials,” the release added.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Mobile unveils plans for ‘Hall of Fame Courtyard’ to honor Hank Aaron and four other local MLB greats

The City of Mobile announced Tuesday that it plans to put in place a “Hall of Fame Courtyard” in the heart of downtown honoring the five members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame from the Mobile area, including recently deceased legend Hank Aaron.

In addition to Aaron, the project will memorialize Satchel Paige, Billy Williams, Ozzie Smith and Willie McCovey.

“These all-stars represent the best of our City, and through this display, they can continue to inspire new generations to strive for greatness in everything they do,” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said in a statement.

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The courtyard would be located between the city’s convention center and cruise terminal.

(City of Mobile/Contributed)

 

(City of Mobile/Contributed)

The city did not provide any cost estimates for the project, but disclosed that they envision the five statues to be life-sized and made of bronze.

“As City Councilman John Williams said, we want to always have at least one unoccupied pedestal that reads ‘Future Hall of Famer’ so young people can stand on it, take photographs and show their aspirations to one day join the ranks of these athletic superstars. This courtyard is as much about our future as our past,” Stimpson noted.

Cleon Jones, a notable former Major League Baseball player himself, has been working with the city on honoring its significant place in baseball history.

In the 1969 MLB All-star game, Jones played left field, Aaron played right field and McCovey played first base, meaning one-third of the National League’s players on the field were from Mobile.

“To have three Mobilians on the same All-Star Team, that’s just unheard of,” Jones explained in a statement.

“Our kids should know all of this history, and I hope it does for them what it did for me. Hank Aaron was my idol as a teenager growing up in Mobile, and that propelled me to want to be a Major League Baseball player,” he added.

The City of Mobile passed along the following bios of each of the five men who will have a statue in the courtyard:

Satchel Paige: From Mobile, Ala., Paige was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. His primary team was the Kansas City Monarchs and his primary position was Pitcher. He began his professional career in the Negro Leagues in the 1920s after being discharged from reform school in Alabama. The 6 foot 3 right hander quickly became the biggest drawing card in Negro baseball, able to overpower batters with a buggy-whipped fastball. In the late 1930’s, Paige developed arm problems for the first time. Kansas City Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson singed Paige to his “B” team, giving Paige time to heal. Within a year, Paige’s shoulder had recovered and his fastball returned.

Hank Aaron: From Mobile, Ala, Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. His primary team was the Milwaukee Braves and his primary position was Right Fielder. Aaron grew up in humble surroundings in Mobile, AL. He was a consistent producer both at the plate and in the field, reaching the .300 mark in batting 14 times, 30 home runs 15 times, 90 RBI (Runs Batted In) 16 times and captured 3 Gold Glove Awards en-route to 25 All-Star Game Selections. It was on April 8, 1974, that Hammerin’ Hank sent a 1-0 pitch into the left field bullpen breaking one of sport’s most cherished records: Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 home runs, giving Aaron 755 career home runs.

Billy Williams: From Whistler, Ala., Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. His primary team was the Chicago Cubs and his primary position was Left Fielder. The first line of text on Billy Williams’ National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque may sum up the longtime Chicago Cubs leftfielder the best: “Soft-spoken, clutch performer was one of the most respected hitters of his day.” Over an 18-season big league career -16 spent with the Cubs- Williams had 2,711 hits, a .290 batting average, 426 home runs, hit 20 or more home runs 13 straight seasons and once held the National League record for consecutive games played with 1,117.

Ozzie Smith: From Mobile, Ala, Smith was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002. His primary team was the St. Louis Cardinals and his primary position was Shortstop. Known as “The Wizard of Oz,” Ozzie Smith combined athletic ability with acrobatic skill to become one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time. The 13-time Gold Glove Award winner redefined the position in his nearly two decades of work with the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals, setting the all-time record for assists by a shortstop. Smith’s fame increased after his trade to St. Louis Cardinals, where he helped the team to three National League pennants and the 1982 World Series title. Smith Retired in 1996, the same year the Cardinals retired his number, and in his 19 seasons was named to 15 All-Star teams.

Willie Lee McCovey: From Mobile, Ala., McCovey was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1986. His primary team was the San Francisco Giants and his primary position is 1st Baseman. Willie McCovey burst on the scene in 1959, winning National League Rookie of the Year honors despite playing in just 52 games. McCovey was a six time All-Star who led the league in intentional walks four times. McCovey played quietly most of his career with knee, hip and foot injuries. McCovey finished his career with a .270 batting average, 1,555 RBI and a .515 slugging percentage. His 45 intentional walks in 1969 set a new record that stood for more than 30 years.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

14 hours ago

Gary Palmer: Left again showing ‘complete disregard for the Constitution’ with impeachment trial of private citizen Trump

Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06) on Tuesday interviewed with Talk 99.5’s “Matt & Val Show,” blasting congressional Democrats’ current effort to convict former President Donald Trump in a Senate impeachment trial as unconstitutional.

The House of Representatives, on a largely party-line vote, voted to impeach Trump when he was still in office following the January 6 rioting and violence at the Capitol. The sole charge was “inciting violence against the Government of the United States.”

Palmer at the time voted against impeaching Trump; while the Central Alabama congressman has said that he believes Trump was partially responsible for what occurred on January 6, Palmer said that “a vote on an article of impeachment one week before a presidential transition only serves to intensify division and anger.”

In the same remarks, Palmer also raised concerns with the process — or total lack of a process — used to impeach Trump ahead of his leaving office on January 20. For the first time in American history, there was no inquiry held ahead of impeaching the president, nor was Trump given the ability to defend himself in the House.

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Now, the Senate is set to mark another historic first — the impeachment trial of a private citizen who finished his term of office. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) raised a formal objection to this point ahead of senators being sworn in for the trial on Tuesday, arguing that the Constitution does not allow for impeachment proceedings against someone who has already left office.

Paul’s objection failed, although 44 of his Republican colleagues voted to sustain his point of order, including Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).

The House did not send the article of impeachment to the Senate until Monday, five days after Trump had ceased to be president.

Palmer on Tuesday morning continued to denounce the process being utilized by Democrats. He also spoke about the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts has declined to preside over the impeachment trial; the Constitution mandates that the chief justice preside over the impeachment trial of a sitting president. Senate President Pro Tem Patrick Leahy (D-VT) plans to preside over Trump’s trial.

“[M]y perspective is that this is not a constitutional exercise,” said Palmer, the fifth-highest ranking Republican in the House. “President Trump is no longer in office. And it’s my reading of the Constitution he’s not subject to being impeached.”

“So, I think what you’re seeing here is a political exercise, Val,” he continued. “They want to try to impose upon him some punitive measure that will prevent him from running for office again, because I think they see him as the political force that he is — and they fear him.”

Co-host Matt Murphy then outlined his belief that Democrats are willfully ignoring the Constitution by holding the impeachment trial because of political calculations.

“Well, Matt, I’ve told you this before: the left thinks the average American is stupid,” Palmer lamented. “They have a complete disregard for the Constitution. We’ve seen it play out time and time again.”

“The whole impeachment exercise in the House this last time was totally lacking in due process. There was no opportunity for the president to offer a defense, to have anyone speak on his behalf other than the members on the floor. It was more an inquisition than it was an impeachment,” he added. “And as I said before, this is not about a true impeachment process. It’s all political. And it will not succeed in the Senate. There’s not going to be two-thirds of the Senate that will vote for this. I think there’s serious questions constitutionally about whether or not they can even have the trial in the Senate because the chief justice has refused to preside, as mandated by the Constitution. So, everybody needs to understand what this is. And I don’t care what your view of President Trump was or is or will be. Right now what matters is ‘do we have constitutional government?’ And I’ve raised some strong questions about whether or not we do.”

Palmer subsequently reiterated, “There’s no constitutional mechanism for them (the Senate) to conduct a trial the way they’re planning to do it.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Barry Moore lands on Agriculture, Veterans committees

U.S. Rep. Barry Moore (AL-02) on Tuesday confirmed he has been appointed to the House Agriculture Committee and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Moore began serving his first term in Congress on January 3 upon the start of the 117th Congress.

The Republican from Enterprise is himself a veteran, and agriculture in Alabama’s Second Congressional District accounts for 96,295 jobs and $3.7 billion in annual wages. Former U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (AL-02) was also on the Agriculture Committee when she was a freshman member during the 112th Congress.

In a statement, Moore commented, “I’m excited and eager to serve on these two committees to guarantee that the voices of Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District will be heard in Washington.”

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“Growing up on a farm, I not only learned the value of hard work but the great sacrifices our farmers make to put food on our tables and clothes on our backs,” he continued. “Agriculture plays a critical role in Alabama, and I’m looking forward to serving as a voice for our agricultural producers on the House Agriculture Committee.”

“As a veteran, I understand the severity of ensuring that every American who served this great country in our military receives the crucial benefits and services they deserve,” Moore concluded. “After they selflessly fought to defend our country, I vow to fight for their needs and to make sure they receive quality care. Let’s get to work.”

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell thanked Moore for seeking out the opportunity to represent Alabama farmers in Congress through service on the Agriculture Committee.

“We appreciate Congressman Moore’s desire to serve on the House Agriculture Committee and look forward to working with him to ensure the voice of Alabama farmers continues to be heard in Washington,” Parnell said in a statement. “Having grown up on a family farm in Coffee County, he has a strong appreciation for the job Alabama farmers do every day. He earned a degree in agricultural science from Auburn University and was a friend of farmers while serving in the Alabama Legislature. We are confident Congressman Moore will be an advocate for Alabama agriculture and the 2nd Congressional District as a member of the Ag Committee.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

17 hours ago

Overnight tornado in Fultondale kills teenager, injures dozens

A tornado ripped through the town of Fultondale overnight, killing one 14-year-old boy, injuring around 30, and destroying significant amounts of property.

As of 10:30 a.m., emergency response teams are still conducting operations in the area. Eighteen people were reportedly hospitalized due to the storm as of Tuesday morning.

Fultondale is a town of around 8,300 people just north of Birmingham. The tornado was confirmed by the National Weather Service in Birmingham at around 10:45 p.m. on Monday.

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Reporters who arrived on the scene Tuesday morning shared images of the destruction.

The nearby town of Center Point also reportedly saw damage from the storm.

Local officials confirmed Tuesday that the young man who perished in the storm was a 14-year-old student at Fultondale High School. He and his father reportedly took shelter in their basement as recommended when a large tree fell on their dwelling.

Local emergency responders are asking the general public to say away from the most affected areas until they can clear the damage.

The Fultondale High School building suffered extreme damage in the storm. Fultondale Superintendent Dr. Walter Gonsoulin told reporters that he does not expect teachers and students will ever be able to return to the building, and the tornado will likely speed up existing plans to replace the school.

Estimates on the total amount of property damage and the number of families displaced by the storm are still being developed.

Those who wish to support the community can bring nonperishable items to the Fultondale City Hall, where a command center is operating. They can also donate to the Salvation Army or go to the United Way of Central Alabama’s web portal dedicated to the tornado response.

This story is breaking and may be updated.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.