Welding program prepares inmates for life after release

HICKMAN, KY — A west Kentucky detention center is working to keep inmates on the right path by offering a program that prepares them for a welding career.

Of the 401,288 state prisoners released in 2005, 83 percent were arrested within 9 years, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The Kentucky Department of Corrections reports that in fiscal year 2017, the cost of incarcerating a state inmate at a county jail was $14,765.80.

To give inmates the skills they need to find work after release, the Fulton County Detention Center in Hickman, Kentucky, started a program called Sparks Welding. Since March, jail officials have been taking community custody state inmates to the Four Rivers Career Academy, where instructor Will Greer teaches them proper welding techniques.

“We just wanted to give these guys an opportunity. I mean, the welding field, there’s thousands of jobs just in western Kentucky,” said Greer.

Inmates James Spaulding and Randall Miller have been working with Greer several hours every Wednesday since the program started.

“We’re building awnings. We’ve built brackets for precast panels to stay in place. And to step back after that was done and look at it and like, ‘Hey, we built that,'” said Miller. “This program has allowed us to stay humble, and learn, and even to teach somebody else, you know, and I like that.”

“It keeps us motivated to stay on the right path, you know, because if we mess up in there, then we mess up out here. And that messes everything up that we have. There goes our career,” Spaulding said.

Spaulding and Miller each said they want to pursue welding further once they are released from the detention center. They both received their certifications from the American Welding Society in September.

“We earned it. We worked hard to get it, and we’ll not stop working hard,” said Spaulding.

Eric Hamilton, program coordinator at the Fulton County Detention Center, hopes to bring eight more inmates to the welding program early next year. The classes will take place at a larger facility in Hickman. Hamilton hopes to eventually expand the program to cover carpentry as well.

“It gives (inmates) something to fall back on, so they don’t have to go back into the life they lived,” Spaulding said.

Hamilton explained that tax dollars do not pay for the welding program. The money comes from the detention center’s commissary fund. Every time an inmate pays for things like deodorant, soap or chips, the money helps pay for the program.

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