Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 at 10:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 at 10:51 p.m.
Operation Education is about to commence at Spartanburg County Jail.
Several months ago, Spartanburg County Council Chairman Jeff Horton asked Maj. Neal Urch, jail director, and Henry Giles, president of Spartanburg Community College, if something could be done to keep people from returning to the jail. Horton became interested in doing something after years of seeing the same faces in mugshots.
“I think the general theme is they are just trapped in the way they are in now, and they don’t know another way,” Horton said.
Surveys of the jail found the average inmate had a 10th grade education. The vast majority of those who did not have a high school diploma or GED said they wanted one, Urch said. Recent changes to the GED make offering courses in the jail cumbersome because of time and expense. But by combining the Work Keys program currently at the jail with some skills training, Urch, Giles and Horton began to believe the education gap could be overcome.
Urch and Giles assembled a team and the conversations that ensued set the stage for a program some leaders believe will become a model for criminal justice reform.
“Detention in itself does not modify behavior,” Giles said. “To give someone job training and skills, they can make an impact on their own lives.”
Beginning April 13, the community college will offer job training and program certificates at the county jail. Four programs – office assistant, bakery/floral/deli grocer, landscaper and manufacturing assistant – have been custom designed to be taught at the jail, said Nannette Bongiovi, director of corporate and community education for the college. Each program incorporates skills training – cake decorating, small engine repair, and computer programs – and coaches less tangible skills like problem solving, making decisions under stress and communication. There is also a work readiness component to each class that covers personal grooming, crafting a resume and preparing for an interview.
“We wanted to offer basic classes that will challenge them, but not to the point they will get frustrated,” Bongiovi said.