Some don't have an education, let alone a high school degree, and quite often they don't have a job waiting for them, either. Recognizing a need to lift inmates out the cycle of crime, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy E. Nehls and staff are making an effort to give them a step up.
Construction has begun on the Inmate Vocational Center, located near the Fort Bend County Jail.
"We are implementing programs in attempts to erase the risk of failure once these men and women return to their homes," Sheriff Nehls said. "Many of them will go home and they won't have a job and, quite frankly, they may not have any training or skills to get a job. That's what we're trying to do here."
Training for heating and air conditioning jobs will be the initial programs with hopes of expanding the program later.
Major Thomas Goodfellow, the Detention Bureau Commander, said this program will enable inmates to leave the jail with skills that will provide higher pay.
"We currently teach food service, janitorial services, barber training, alterations and tailoring, basic computer skills and landscaping services," said Goodfellow. "That is an extensive list, but heat/air conditioning training will bring much higher wages for the inmate. When the inmate transitions back to civilian life, we should see a greater reduction in recidivism."
Instructors from Wharton County Junior College will guide the program, which will be paid for utilizing commissary proceeds from the jail. Programs are about 16 weeks long and inmates will be selected on the severity of the crime committed, time actually served in the Fort Bend County Jail and desired participation.
Earlier in the year, the Sheriff's Office began a General Educational Development (GED) program for inmates. This project was enabled by a grant which provides the instructors, again from Wharton County Junior College.
The first step in the GED program is to evaluate and determine what learning level each inmate has. Some have been in school into their high school years, but were not able to complete the requirements to earn a degree.
The educational experience for others ranges from none at all to elementary and junior high schooling.
One requirement is that inmates' terms must be long enough to enable them to complete the program.
Initial interest was strong with the first GED class filled by female inmates. More than 80 male inmates expressed interest in the classes, which are conducted in the Fort Bend County Jail.
"We want these inmates to have skills to get a job rather than returning to a life of crime. These programs will help them achieve that goal," Sheriff Nehls said.