Inmates working for a ‘second chance’ through city re-entry program

Five inmates will graduate Thursday with four trade-skill certificates and will start work full-time

SOMERSET, Ky. (WTVQ) – The city of Somerset is paving the way in Kentucky with an inmate re-entry program that allows inmates to re-shape their future while bridging the gap in the state’s depleted workforce. The Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) created a first-of-its-kind program in Kentucky, where inmates are able to take night classes to get certified in different skills.

Somerset Mayor Alan Keck says this program helps to solve a bigger problem in the commonwealth, adding able-bodied people to a depleted workforce.

“Some of our best employers are struggling to find people and in Somerset-Pulaski County we said it’s not okay to shrug our shoulders and hope it gets better, we want to solve that problem and this program is an example of that,” says Keck.

“A second chance at life” is how Keck describes the city’s inmate re-entry program.

“We think this is truly a win-win. An opportunity for employers to fill a void that they have but, you know, as important maybe more important is for that inmate who has done their time to now have a chance to get back into society and become a productive member of that,” says Keck.

Five inmates from the Pulaski County Detention Center (PCDC) will graduate Thursday afternoon from Somerset Community College with four certificates in trade skills, three welding certificates and one in forklift operation.

“These inmates are on work release during the day. They work intense labor jobs during the day, mowing and trimming and things of that nature, around county parks and city parks and then they come here two nights a week, four hours a night and weld,” says Kyle Wilson, re-entry coordinator at Somerset Community College.

After graduation, the inmates will immediately start working full-time while they finish their sentence with the money they make going into a savings account they’ll get access to once they’re released. One inmate calling the program life-changing.

“A lot of inmates get out and they don’t have anything to go to, no family, no home, no vehicle, so they’ll go back to the same thing that got them here in the first place and don’t really have a chance,” says Gary Carter, one of the graduating inmates from PCDC. “But with this, once you get out you have a chance.”

Not only does this program set these inmates up for a better life after release but for some, it lights a new flame of passion and curiosity. A couple of inmates even talking about coming back to school to get advanced degrees after they’re released.

“I hope one day I’ll be able to underground weld or underwater weld. Yeah, that’s something I’m very interested in, I’ve already asked questions and everything about it so I’m very interested in it,” says Jessica McKee, graduating inmate from PCDC.

Everyone involved with the inmate re-entry program says its success is undeniable and hopes it gets adopted statewide.

“It makes me not want to run back to the fast money or the fast life, or whenever it gets overwhelming just go and do what I’m not supposed to do,” says McKee.

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