The McCracken County Jail is developing a deckhand training program that would teach inmates a new skill set for potential employment after their release.
Jailer David Knight and others met with river industry representatives, West Kentucky Community and Technical College marine training personnel and a West Kentucky Workforce liaison at the jail annex earlier this week to discuss what needs to happen for its program to succeed, such as certificates, physicals, venue and costs. It would allow for a group of inmates to undergo weeks of training to learn deckhand work in the river industry.
"We have a big population to pick from, 640 inmates or so, so I think we can find eight or 10 that are qualified on any given time," Knight said. "The industries have been really good on working with us, because they're going to benefit from a good employee as well."
Knight said there are some hurdles to work out for the program, including physicals for inmates, which are necessary due to the demanding nature of deckhand labor. Companies require physicals for the job.
However, Knight doesn't see anything that can't be achieved. He hopes the program helps put the inmates out a "little better" than they came in, breaking the cycle of recidivism.
"That's our goal," he said.
Stan Wallace, WKCTC marine technology program coordinator, described the deckhand profession as "strenuous work." He said deckhands go around a vessel and make sure there aren't any problems on routine cruising, along with performing many other duties. It's not a 9-to-5 job either, as deckhands may be away from home for weeks at a time.
"Safety is the biggest need," Wallace said. "You don't want to have them go out and not be as prepared as they need to be. There's no mistaking the fact that working out on the vessels has an inherent hazard to it."
Wallace said the program would involve the "initial basics" to get inmates hired, but training and education should continue throughout their careers and they could work up the ladder to other jobs, such as captain.
There is a need for applicants to fill deckhand jobs, according to river industry employees at the meeting.
Jade Simons, human resources generalist for James Marine Inc., said the company is always looking to hire deckhands, while Harley Hall Jr., vice president of operations at Tennessee Valley Towing, said it's hard to find people who can be away for 28 days in the younger generation and it'd be "great to have another source" of deckhands.
"We're always needing people," Hall said.
The jail does not have a timetable for starting the program, but Knight estimated it will take months rather than years. It will mark another workforce training program for the jail, which began a welding program for inmates earlier this year.
"I hope it's not even that long," Knight said. "Funding-wise, no tax dollars will go to this at all. It will all be through (inmate) commissary and donations."