Group of Starke County Justice Center Trustees to Begin Welding Program Today

Starting today, a handful of Starke County Justice Center trustees will be attending 12 weeks of welding training, with the opportunity to receive certification.

Program officials who were interviewed about this opportunity indicated that the training is being offered to not only give offenders a chance to prove their commitment to recovery and rehabilitation, but to also benefit the community.

In addition to providing the industry with the more workers, the program will give incarcerated individuals access to the tools they’ll need to support themselves upon their release. This will in turn help them become active and productive members of society.

Starke County Initiative for Lifelong Learning (SCILL) Director Ron Gifford noted that a company will be supplying the equipment and site.

Gifford explained, “Classes will meet from 4 to 8 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This instruction will be similar to what our adult classes are like, as far as duration and content, so a total of 96 hours of training.”

Director Gifford mentioned that the SCILL Center will pay the instructor and provide participants with the gear and tools they’ll need to complete the training.

A grant from Kankakee Valley REMC Operation Round Up will be utilized to pay for the gear and Gifford said he’s meeting with Community Foundation reps later this month to discuss another potential funding opportunity.

Multiple people involved with the program’s development noted that this will likely cut down on recidivism rates significantly by providing trustees with career-ready skills, subsequently reducing their willingness to re-enter a life of crime.

Jail Commander Nathan Caudill touched on the typical experience for a released inmate that officials attempting to change with this program.

He shared, “These guys get out of a facility like this where they’ve had some sort of programming for rehabilitation and substance abuse issues, which is probably 80-90% of the offenders that we deal with,”

Caudill continued, “and there’s that stigma that they’ve been incarcerated, it’s tough for them to land decent jobs so they can’t get a job and puts them right back to square one.”

Sheriff Bill Dulin mentioned that the welding training will give inmates a chance to bring the behavior modification skills learned through substance abuse classes and other facility programs into a real world situation.

While discussions of this type of vocational program have been happening for about two years, it was finally made possible through the collective efforts of multiple agencies in the county.

Key players included officials from the SCILL Center and Starke County Economic Development Foundation, the Sheriff’s Department and Justice Center, and the Court System including the judge, Community Corrections and Pretrial Services.

SCEDF Executive Director Larry Wickert mentioned the monitored onsite training will be held in an area that’s separate from the general population to avoid any concerns of contraband making its way into the Justice Center.

When asked about the program, Starke County Circuit Court Judge Kim Hall shared the goal is to transition inmates from incarceration to employment.

While every case will be different for each individual, the completion of this program will be considered and weigh favorably the next time they come before the Judge. Judge Hall mentioned that home detention, probation and other arrangments will be considered depending on the particular person and their case.

When it comes to potential repercussions for inmates who misbehave during the training, the instructor and jail staff have the authority to remove an inmate who causes any problems.

Sheriff Dulin added that while nothing has been set in stone, there have be discussions about possibly developing a policy that would require a program participant to pay back restitution if they reoffend within a certain amount of time after receiving this training and being released.

However, program officials explained that the six people who were selected for this were chosen due to their cooperation, responsibility and active participation in the facility’s ongoing programs. In other words, those who were perceived to have a high-risk level for re-offending were not given this opportunity.

Looking down the line, Sheriff Dulin said the possibility of offering a job fair at the Justice Center is also being considered. He indicated that this would be away for those who may not be looking to get into the welding field to gain similar access to resources for a job they are interested in pursuing.