Two new grants awarded to Lawrence County by Tennessee’s Office of Criminal Justice Programs mean long-term benefits for our inmate population and local court system. I’ll describe the former today and the latter in next week’s column.

Evidence-Based Programming for those incarcerated in our jail is provided through an $86,695 grant. “Evidence-based” means there is proof from research and real-life practice that a program is effective. Funds are paying for two different components:

1. Salary for a part-time (20 hours per week) instructor working hand-in-hand with the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance (SCTWA) and its Pathway Home program. I wrote several months ago about Pathway Home’s tremendous potential, and the self-help, educational, and job readiness courses it’s bringing to jails in the 22nd Judicial District: Maury, Lawrence, Giles, and Wayne Counties.

Lacey McCandless, also a part-time instructor at UT Southern, was hired through our Evidence-Based Programming grant to give hands-on instruction in the courses Pathway Home brings here. SCTWA Case Manager Samantha Colombo divides her time between Lawrence and Wayne County jails and works with our Jail Administrator Susan Taylor to determine which courses are best for each individual.

One example is SMART Recovery, which stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. Most people in our jail are there for drug-related crimes. Addictions cause over 90% to re-offend and return again and again.

The SMART Recovery website describes the course and its follow-up as “a transformative method of moving from addictive substances and negative behaviors to a life of positive self-regard and willingness to change.” The program has 25 years of success behind it, so is truly evidence-based.

2. Certified Production Technician curriculum brought to our jail by TCAT-Pulaski. Students will emerge with proficiency in Quality Practices & Measurement; Manufacturing Process & Production; OSHA Safety; and Work Ethics. The course is tailored to teach skills needed by local employers.

The grant provides three sessions of the 7-week (Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.) program and the first group of eight male inmates begin this week. Coed classes are not allowed, so plans include a class made up of female students.

Many thanks go to TCAT-Pulaski President Mike Whitehead and Special Industry Training/Evening Coordinator Rob Alford. They worked with us through the challenges this plan presented, and hired an instructor specifically for the job.

The coolest thing about the course? Students will practice skills with a virtual-reality headset, another piece of equipment provided through the grant. It also covered the price of students’ computer tablets and increased Wi-Fi capabilities in our jail.

Next week’s subject is more grant-funded state-of-the-art technology.