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Making Inmates Ready for Jobs

“Spent time behind bars” does not look very good on a job resume. “Certified landscaper with experience” does.

Like most towns and cities in our area, St. Clairsville sometimes can use help with community improvement projects. The town got some recently, from the Belmont Correctional Institution. Two seven-inmate crews from the facility prepared the St. Clairsville community garden for planting.

They did so through a program that helps some inmates in Ohio prisons learn skills and gain experience that can help them land jobs after they serve their time. The initiative is handled through Central Ohio School Systems.

Mike Sechrest of COSS explained that the landscaping program lasts a year, giving minimum-security inmates opportunities to learn new skills. They learn all aspects of landscaping and gardening through study during winter months and hands-on experience when the weather turns warmer.

When they are ready, participants take state certification tests through the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association. During the last round of examinations, the inmates had a 100% passing rate.

The idea for such vocational training is not to compete with businesses, but to provide help to entities that may not be able to pay for the work. Sechrest noted that municipalities and nonprofit agencies in Belmont County can seek assistance through the local prison program.

One reason some people convicted of crimes go right back to that way of life after leaving prison is that they find it difficult, sometimes impossible, to find jobs. Programs such as that at BCI address that challenge.

None of this happens without cost to taxpayers, of course. But this is a situation in which a few dollars spent to make an inmate job-ready can save much more in the long run. The more such initiatives in both local and state jails and prisons, the better.

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