Less than two months after graduating its first welding class, McCracken County Jail on Thursday kicked off two new inmate education programs -- an HVAC course that incorporates electrician training and a deckhand school.
2019 has seen a flurry of new and improved programs at the facility, as Jailer David Knight has focused on education and rehabilitation, with the goals of reuniting families, reducing recidivism and providing local industries with a built-in workforce.
"We've set these programs up to basically meet the needs of the jobs that are here," Knight said before the kickoff.
"We want (inmates) to step out of jail and into work."
The welding, deckhand and HVAC courses are available to inmates classified as eligible for work-release, then specifically chosen by the jail based on behavioral and other requirements.
And there's still one program left expected to launch within the coming weeks -- a gardening and landscaping course for female inmates.
Along with improvements to the jail's GED program, Knight said he expects the gardening program to be the last for the time being.
"We don't want to get too big too quick," Knight said. "We want to make sure what we're doing is working."
Real-world results will likely take time to measure, Knight said, but he said national statistics have shown that similar programs effectively reduce recidivism rates.
The two welding graduates who have been released from the jail already have jobs in the industry, Knight said.
"The day they graduated probably three different companies called us back wanting to hire all of them."
Sgt. Arnie Puckett, who serves on the administrative team overseeing the programs, said he was pleased with Knight's dedication to getting the programs off the ground.
"This is something that several of us have wanted to do for a long time," Puckett said.
He added that, for the programs taught via West Kentucky Community and Technical College, the hours of study will be able to count toward an associate's degree for inmates that choose to pursue more education when they're released.
Puckett emphasized that no taxpayer dollars go toward the programs, as they're paid for by inmate commissary accounts and private donations of both time and money.
Along with waiting to see how the results of the programs pan out, Puckett said there's another reason to hold off on creating even more programs -- lack of space.
"We're going to have to find some benefactors and get a vocational building," he said, to accommodate storage of all the equipment involved. Welding program participants recently finished putting together a mock barge top for the deckhand school.
With between eight and 15 participants in each program, and two to three sessions per year, the jail expects to help re-integrate at least 60 inmates each year, with the hopes that most of them will never walk through the doors of the jail again.
Knight said even though the numbers may look objectively small, the real effect will hopefully be in the crimes that no one ever hears about because they don't happen.
"I've seen the hurt in a family's eyes and I've seen the fear in a victim's eyes," he said. "It's a lot better to prevent a crime than to take care of one."