Posted on Thursday, December 12, 2019

Earlier this month, a completion ceremony was held for students at the Lynchburg Regional Juvenile Detention Center. But it wasn’t your typical graduation ceremony, and these aren’t your typical students. In corrections parlance, they’re commonly referred to as “detainees.”

The students completed a nine-and-a-half-week course in basic welding, thanks to a pilot program launched this fall by Central Virginia Community College (CVCC) in partnership with the city of Lynchburg. The students could earn college credits for their work, should they decide to continue their education once they’ve been released.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, incarcerated people who participate in postsecondary education programs are 48% less likely to recidivate than those who don’t. The odds of recidivism decrease as incarcerated people achieve higher levels of education.

The Institute also found that facilities offering these programs have fewer incidents of violence and every dollar invested in prison-based education yields $4 to $5 of taxpayer savings in reduced incarceration costs.

Francie Dye, training coordinator at CVCC, says the students’ desire to prepare themselves for a future beyond the confines of the detention center was authentic and at times, even palpable.

“The ceremony was an uplifting event for everyone, and the students were very happy to be awarded course completion certificates in recognition of their hard work.”

Among other things, the students learned a variety of welding techniques, both on a simulator and in the CVCC welding lab. They also learned an array of soft skills including communication, resume-writing, budgeting fundamentals and how to build their own personal brand.

Dye says she’s hopeful more detainees will want to participate should the course be offered again.

“The rewards outweigh the challenges that we have faced. Everyone deserves a second, third and (even) a fourth chance.”

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Craig Butterworth

A native of Richmond, Craig Butterworth is an award-winning broadcast journalist and communications professional. He has worked as a spokesperson, staff writer and editor for a variety of non-profit and for-profit organizations throughout the Richmond area.

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