The inaugural year of the Georgia Department of Corrections Educational Incentive Program has turned into a win-win situation for Hall County Correctional Institute inmates and Hall County government.
Warden Walt Davis made a presentation to Hall County commissioners this past week, telling them that inmates in the Hall County facility have enrolled in the program to earn their GEDs and have completed the work at the third highest rate in the state. In return, the state has rewarded Hall County financially.
"[The program] was funded by the governor's office as part of his criminal justice reform package," Davis said. "One of the big pushes is getting inmates ready for release and we know that GEDs and vocational skills are two keys to them hopefully avoiding recidivism when they get out."
In addition to the GED course, inmates also have been offered the opportunity to earn certification in welding as part of a partnership with Lanier Technical College and Goodwill Industries.
"According to Hall County Chamber of Commerce [sic], at any given time there are 200 vacant welding positions in the county," Davis said. "There is a huge demand for welders in this county and it pays a living wage."
That means there's a good chance inmates re-entering civilian life can get a job quickly if they have that skill, according to Davis.
To sweeten the deal, Lanier Tech has donated old equipment to the CI, where inmates are currently building their own welding shop on the campus.
"[We have] six welding work stations and we've converted our C Dorm into a welding shop that will be able to be used by the county," Davis said.
He was quick to point out to commissioners that the money to build the shop came from the incentives paid by the state in exchange for inmate participation in the program. Hall County Corrections received $100,000 for the 43 enrollees in the program, another $9,000 for the inmates who completed GEDs and another $7,000 for inmates earning welding certificates. The program stipulates that all proceeds earned through the program is to be used to benefit inmates.
Some of that money will also go to buy new laptops and upgrade the wi-fi system at the CI campus for the purpose of GED work.
"Everything is done electronically now," Davis said.
The welding program takes 12 weeks to complete, according to Davis, while the five-part GED test can take several months.
Davis also noted that the incentives for the upcoming year will not be as lucrative. He said he was part of the statewide team that has initiated changes for FY 18.
"We felt that the process was set up to reward enrollments rather than actual completions and it really needs to be the other way around," Davis said. "The goal is to have these offenders get their GEDs and get their certificates."
He said that means each institution will have to present a plan of action to the state on how incentives will be used and then incentives will be awarded on a quarterly basis. The maximum incentive amount will be $66,000 per facility, according to Davis.