Making correctional education work for Alabama

Annette Funderburk, president
J.F. Ingram State Technical College

The job market in Alabama is growing, and the unemployment rate has reached low levels not seen in many years. Businesses across the state are working harder than ever to find and hire qualified workers. According to Governor Ivey’s Success Plus initiative, our state will need an extra 500,000 credentialed, highly-skilled or degreed individuals by 2025.

This provides an excellent opportunity for placement of previously incarcerated individuals who are graduating from J.F. Ingram State Technical College with technical skills and proficiency in ready-to-work disciplines.

At Ingram, we want to send the message that opportunities to reduce recidivism in our state’s prison system have been enhanced by economic conditions statewide and by our continued efforts to provide excellent training and work readiness skills to the incarcerated. Recently, Ingram hired a job placement coordinator. We are having increased success placing Ingram graduates in high wage, high demand positions throughout Alabama. These jobs provide income, dignity and hope for those in our communities in need of a chance to succeed and become productive citizens.

To facilitate reentry into society, the Ingram State Foundation often provides needed tools and safety equipment to employed graduates as they begin their new jobs.

According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, 94 % of individuals incarcerated, will be released into the community. Established by the Alabama legislature in 1965, Ingram State Technical College is the only community college in the country serving incarcerated students exclusively.

A fully-accredited member of the Alabama Community College System, which is part of the Alabama Workforce Council, Ingram State partners with the Alabama Department of Corrections and provides career technical training in 17 programs ranging from diesel mechanics to industrial maintenance, logistics to welding, cosmetology and barbering at correctional facilities across central Alabama, including Tutwiler Prison for Women.

These are credit-bearing programs with stackable credentials of short and long-term certifications. College enrollment is available to inmates that are within 10 years of their end-of-sentence or parole date. Our goal is to prepare our graduates to enter the workforce equipped to meet the needs of employers, provide a pathway of employment for the formerly incarcerated and reduce the number of inmates that return to Alabama’s prisons.

Since many of our students did not graduate from high school, students can also enroll in adult education and pursue their high school diploma or GED. A new endeavor in adult education is the Career Pathways program which encourages students earn their GED while they are dually enrolling in a career tech program.

Because ISTC graduates face significant barriers to employment, ISTC has placed particular emphasis on the acquisition of industry-recognized certifications and credentials. Programs are taught utilizing the nationally recognized curriculums from the National Center for Construction Education and Research and Manufacturing Skills Standards Council, and qualified students complete an OSHA 10-hour safety class.

Through an agreement with the Alabama Plumbers and Gas Fitters Examining Board, ISTC plumbing students can earn their journeyman certification as part of their program of study. Students enrolled in the HVAC program receive EPA certifications, while barbering and cosmetology students complete the hours of education needed to sit for state licensure examinations.

In addition to helping close the employment gap, educating Alabama’s incarcerated population has other benefits. A 2018 study by the RAND Corporation shows that individuals who participate in quality education programs are 28 percent less likely to return to prison than those who serve their sentence and are released. Earlier RAND research showed that for every $1 investment in prison education programs there is a $4 to $5 reduction in incarceration costs during the first three years post-release of a prisoner.

Although our buildings, instructional equipment, and techniques would be familiar on any community college campus, our student body is unique — a mission of developing responsible citizens which reduces recidivism and provides employable workers to businesses. Student success at ISTC is a victory not only for each student and their families – but for all Alabamians.

22 mins ago

Canfield elected chair of Alabama Commission on Artificial Intelligence, Waggoner vice-chair

The Alabama Commission on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Associated Technologies recently held its inaugural meeting, at which commission members elected Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield as chairman and State Senator Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) as vice-chairman.

The commission plans to schedule additional meetings over the next seven months, with all meetings being open to the public.

The members will deliver a report in May to Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Legislature, recommending strategies and policies on how AI and other emerging technologies will be of benefit to the Yellowhammer State’s economy.

In a statement on Thursday, Canfield explained the importance of the commission’s work.

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“Artificial intelligence is a powerful, disruptive technology that has the potential to forever change the way we live our lives and how businesses across Alabama operate,” he emphasized.

“It’s critical that we understand how AI will bring about these sweeping changes, and this Commission will help us develop insights into what the future has in store for Alabama’s citizens and businesses,” Canfield concluded.

Waggoner spearheaded the legislative resolution that formed the commission. His leadership has been, and continues to be instrumental, in this process. The powerful chair of the Senate Rules Committee identified the goal of Alabama being on the cutting edge of AI research and job creation in the technology sector.

“We want Alabama to be a leader in AI research, innovation, technology start-ups, and technology jobs,” Waggoner stated. We believe that we are competitive with other states.”

He continued, “The Commission will look at how Alabama is positioned and ready for the opportunities of tomorrow. Those are some of the issues and questions this Commission is going to answer. We will meet with key business groups and different industry sectors to understand the impact of AI and automation on their industries.”

According to Waggoner, the commission will also examine how schools and universities can develop AI-educational programs, and investigate what privacy safeguards might be needed to protect consumers.

“We want Alabama’s education system in a place where we can equip students with AI-relevant skills through engineering and technology classes and apprenticeship programs,” he added. “As we promote innovation and educational readiness, we must also protect the privacy rights of citizens, and examine whether existing state laws are effective in regulating these emerging technologies. There’s a lot of work ahead.”

The commission will be divided up into five sub-committees, focused on the following:

  • state regulations, government oversight, and potential legislative action;
  • education and workforce development;
  • healthcare and medical services;
  • future and evolving industries, economic development, and research;
  • ethics, privacy and security.

The subcommittees will begin their work in mid-October.

State Senator Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) was appointed to the commission by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston). Roberts came away from the body’s initial meeting impressed at the experience and expertise of its membership.

“Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning are very complex subjects. Thankfully, I think we have some of the finest minds in our state working on this project. The sub committees that have been established will allow every person on the commission to hone in on their particular areas of expertise,” Roberts outlined.

The 25 members of the commission are as follows:

Greg Canfield – Secretary of Commerce (chairman)

Marty Redden – Acting secretary of the Alabama Office of Information Technology

Ivey’s appointees:

1. Dr. Hari Narayanan— Auburn

2. Dr. Gerry Dozier— Auburn

3. Dr. Jeff Carver – UA (Tuscaloosa)

4. Dr. Curt Carver – UAB

5. Dr. Alec Yasinac – USA

6. Dr. John Beck – UAH

7. Dr. James Cimino – UAB

8. Melvin Evans – Hand Arendall

9. Jim McLane – NaphCare

10. Jacob Kosoff – Regions Bank

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth’s appointees:

Joshua Jones – StrategyWise

Dr. Vicki Karolewics – Wallace State Community College

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon’s appointees:

Rep. Kirk Hatcher

Rep. Craig Lipscomb

Marsh’ appointees:

Sen. Jabo Waggoner (Vice-chair)

Sen. Dan Roberts

Non-Voting members appointed by the governor:

J. Michael Hardin – Provost & vice president at Samford University

John Brandt – Southern Company

Leonard Tillman – Balch & Bingham

Mike Rowell – Senior VP & CIO at ALFA Insurance

James Mizell – Senior account executive at Microsoft

Jason Asbury – NXTsoft

Dr. Syed Raza – Jefferson State Community College

An Alabama CEO, also a commission member, said artificial intelligence is on the cusp of transforming every industry.

“Artificial intelligence is rapidly changing every industry, and it is incredibly important for us as a state to think strategically about what that means to our economy,” advised Joshua Jones, CEO of Birmingham-based StrategyWise, an AI and data science consulting firm.

He concluded, “I applaud Senator Waggoner and Secretary Canfield for leading Alabama to be one of the first states to really address these opportunities and changing dynamics systematically. It sends a message to the rest of the U.S. that Alabama is serious about investing in our future, and we’re growing our tech-based ecosystem. For companies that want to leverage all that AI has to offer, we’re going to be prepared with a trained workforce, accommodating public policy, and a strong tech infrastructure.”

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

57 mins ago

Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling open to Tennessee River toll bridge — If that moves freight, freight companies, truckers ‘would just be thrilled to do it’

For decades, traffic headed west from Huntsville and other points toward the Shoals has relied upon the Captain William J. Hudson “Steamboat Bill” Memorial Bridges to cross the Tennessee River into Decatur. Once traffic crosses that bridge, it either heads south on U.S. Highway 31 toward Hartselle and Cullman, or it makes a hard-right 90-degree turn on to U.S. Highway Alternate 72 and heads toward Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield.

As the manufacturing base in northern Alabama expands, freight traffic is expected to increase at that intersection and make the turn west even more precarious for commuters and commercial traffic.

During an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN on Wednesday, Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling discussed that spot and possible solutions for the future, which could include a tolling component.

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“If you were to go now and sit in the Doubletree Hotel, which is where you’re talking about there where you make that turn to go to the Shoals, and just look at the amount of freight that comes in out of Memphis — Memphis is the distribution hub for America,” Bowling said on Wednesday’s broadcast of “The Jeff Poor Show.” “And that freight that comes out of Memphis, straight down [U.S. Highway Alternate] 72, and then it makes its way across our bridge and goes various routes from there — into Huntsville, Madison, Athens, gets on [Interstate] 65, has different directions it can go from there. But whenever we start producing a thousand cars a day, we have 4,000 employees plus the tiered suppliers who will be there. The amount of freight that will come in to take care of that I believe is going to double.”

Bowling noted the situation at the Hyundai facility near Montgomery as a sign of what is to come and commended Gov. Kay Ivey for the commitment to widen the existing Interstate 565 that connects Decatur and Huntsville.

“We visited the Hyundai facility manufacturing a thousand cars a day just south of Montgomery — just-in-time deliveries: batteries, tires, things of that nature — they receive a truck a minute,” he continued. “You think widening [Interstate] 565 is important? Heck yeah, it’s important. We’re thankful Gov. Ivey is going to get that done for us in the Spring of 2020.”

The Decatur mayor said the completion of a nearby overpass for Alabama Highway 20 remains his current top priority.  Once that is completed, Bowling said exploring the possibility of an alternate route over the Tennessee River would be appropriate.

“We’re working on an overpass on [Alabama] Highway 20 where Apple Lane Farms is,” he said. “That’s Decatur, and that’s a build grant that we received for $14 million from the Federal Highway Department. We’re very thankful for that. A lot of people made that happen. Once that project gets going, then we’ll start working on the other. But we want to be sure we do everything to make sure that project gets going first.”

As for the possibility of using tolls to finance a new bridge, Bowling said he expected that those moving freight would be “thrilled” if it expedited transit and that if it would improve commuter traffic on existing structures, it could be a possibility.

“If that moves freight, I would believe that the freight companies, the truckers would just be thrilled to do it,” Bowling explained. “If we were to take the trucks off of the [U.S.] Highway 31 bridges, I believe that our commuter traffic — it would be a lot easier to make that commute. And so, we’ll see what we can do. We’ll come up with a traffic plan. We’ll do traffic counts. Things to prove it out.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

2 hours ago

Patriot Flag to be displayed in Mobile on Thursday to honor fallen American heroes

The Patriot Flag will be displayed at the USS Alabama in Mobile on Thursday, September 19.

According to WALA Fox 10, the flag is currently on a national tour intended to honor and thank fallen American men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation’s freedom and safety.

Measuring 28 by 60.5 feet and weighing 50 pounds, the Patriot Flag’s nationwide journey began on the 15th Anniversary of 9/11 when the flag was displayed at all three locations that were attacked by radical Islamic terrorists. The tour will end in 2021, on the 20th anniversary of the attacks.

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On Thursday, the flag will be unfurled at 3:00 p.m. at Battleship Memorial Park. Mobile Fire-Rescue firefighters will assist.

You can read more about the tour and see photos from previous stops here.

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

3 hours ago

Byrne applauds Trump administration for rescinding WOTUS rule; Says Mobile Baykeeper ‘absolutely wrong’ about environmental threat

Last week, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama-era “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule, which broadened the scope of “waters” protected by the Clean Water Act.

The rule faced numerous legal challenges and was decried by farmers as an overreach.

During an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2020, applauded the Trump administration’s decision.

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“There was a power grab by the Obama administration,” Byrne said on “The Jeff Poor Show.” “They wanted to take the traditional understanding about what is the water under the Clean Water Act that the EPA can regulate it and expand it to the point where if a farmer has two or three inches of standing water in their fields, all of a sudden the EPA tells them they can or can’t plant. That’s nonsense.”

“We actually had some legislation previously on it, but the Trump administration has just rescinded that rule,” he continued. “So we have gone back to a more common-sense understanding. I mean, a small pond in your yard is not something that should be regulated by the EPA. Some standing water in a big field is not something that should be regulated by the EPA.”

Byrne cited an AL(dot)com story quoting Mobile Baykeeper’s Casi Callaway decrying the move by the Trump administration and warning the impact that revoking the rule could have on the environment.

“Casi is a friend, but she is absolutely wrong about that,” Byrne remarked. “This is just a common-sense change going back to the way it has been for decades. It has worked fine for decades. I really appreciate the Trump administration making this change. And I understand why farmers and other people in other rural parts of Alabama felt so strongly about it.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

Celebrate the Seventh Amendment at Jefferson County Courthouse

The Alabama Association of Justice and their members invite all courthouse employees and judicial staff to celebrate 230 years of the Seventh Amendment guaranteeing the right to a civil jury trial.  Join the fun: Monday, September 23, 10:00 am to 10:30 am at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N #251, Birmingham, AL.  For more information contact jsmith@alabamajustice.org.

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