The Pulaski County Jail will implement a new school rehabilitation program to help inmates learn a trade, find employment and get back on their feet.
WJ Monagle, executive director of the Little Rock Workforce Development Board, said the courses focus on industrial and production technician jobs, manufacturing and machinery as well as computer programming.
“We’re trying to create production workers, especially for the Port of Little Rock because they have an extreme shortage there,” he said. “We’re trying to build people who, you know, have an incentive to show up and make money and stay out of trouble.”
Monagle said the program expects those who participate to work in their first term, or 90 days, after graduation. Each graduate’s case manager will check in with them for up to two years to assist with job training, interview practice, housing, transportation and more.
Kathy McConnell, director of the prison’s rehabilitation program, said the program also helps inmates get their records, birth certificates, photo IDs and insurance back.
Monagle said the program can enroll 200 inmates before they are released.
“We’re going to provide them with the resources and the means they need to be marketable employees,” he said. “Whether it’s job training or work experience or support services, or some kind of emergency services… Whatever they need.”
The last two development council grants have had a 9% recidivism rate, Monagle added, with the normal statewide recidivism rate being about 50%.
“That means that within three years, people who get away with it without these programs will go back to prison,” he said. “We’re sort of demonstrating that with the right resources and opportunities, these people can and will succeed. It’s just a matter of channeling those resources to them.”
A part-time county jail officer and clerk will be assigned to the program to get it started while the county is reimbursed by the council, Monagle said.
In November, the reintegration program also received a $1.3 million grant from the Office of Justice for the County Sheriff’s Comprehensive, Stimulative and Addictions Program. A grants administrator, substance abuse counselor and peer support specialists will be hired for the program, McConnell said.
Medical assistance treatment for people with opioid use disorder is provided prior to release. More rehabilitation services through a partnership with the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences School of Medicine are provided free of charge for up to three months until insurance can be provided. McConnell said the program also provides accommodation upon release.
McConnell said the county jail plans to seek approval for a $130,000 Department of Social Services grant for a peer support specialist for two years.
“We have 120 men and women in our back-to-school barracks,” she said. “And they are labor-intensive people who need a lot of hands-on instruction, guidance and help. Also, we place them once they come out. So we have to follow them. along the way. We will be able to do what we do, but we will be able to do it more successfully and help more people.”
McConnell said some people are “just averse to going back to school.”
“They see that our people are treated differently than other people, and we treat them as people,” she said. “We treat them humanely. We take them to class, we think of them as students… What we’re trying to do is give back to the streets better citizens.”
McConnell added that the public needs to understand that it costs money to incarcerate people, around $30,000 a year.
“If you look at the new budget to build the new jail and the new Calico Rock jail extension, those are staggering numbers,” she said. “So why wouldn’t we want to spend a little money while they’re there and hopefully not have them anymore?”
When McConnell lost her youngest son to a fentanyl overdose three years ago, she decided that was what she wanted to do.
“Fentanyl is killing people at an unprecedented rate, 2,000 people this year alone,” she said. “Why wouldn’t we treat people? Why wouldn’t we help them not die? You can’t help someone if they’re dead. So let’s keep people alive a little longer until let them catch him.”
The very first thought McConnell had when her son died was that “there is no more hope,” but “we want to give people hope,” she said.
The new reinstatement program is being put in place after the Arkansas Workforce Development Board received a $2.3 million grant, provided by the Department of Labor, approved by the United States Court. quorum. The county jail will be a subrecipient.