Project Phoenix Rises in Third Year at McCracken County Jail | New
McCracken County Jail launched a program in 2019 to help inmates find work after release. In its first year, the program included welding training, deckhand school, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) training.
“Jailer David Knight focused on education and rehabilitation, with the goal of reuniting families, reducing recidivism and providing local industries with an integrated workforce,” according to an article in the November 15, 2019 issue of the Paducah Sun. Recidivism is a tendency to relapse into a previous state or pattern of behavior – in this case, criminal behavior.
At the time, so-Sgt. Arnie Puckett was part of the administrative team overseeing the programs. Today, Lt. Puckett still oversees programs – called The Phoenix Project for the mythological bird that was born from its own ashes – which aim to provide inmates with a brighter future upon release.
“When Jailer Knight ran for office (in 2018), he wanted to implement measures that would hopefully reduce recidivism, which would help the taxpayer, and also give people the ability to have the tools they need to be successful here, ”he said.
“Many of these people have no one to teach them the trades and the means to earn a living to integrate into society.
The prison graduated more than 30 inmates through the courses before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020.
“In one group, 19 of them were actually released from prison, and we only had three returns, and those were for minor infractions,” Puckett said. “The rest of them are still working, supporting their families.
“So our recidivism rate for this group is 15.8% compared to the mid-1980s average, so it’s a great achievement. “
The prison has partners who reinforce its willingness to employ ex-prisoners when they are released.
West Kentucky Community and Technical College provides training on its campus, also allowing inmates to earn a General Professional Associate’s Degree or General Education Development, or GED.
“One of the biggest problems we had was when these people were released from our prison; many times they didn’t have a support system, food, clothing – all of those things that we need, ”Puckett said. “We have been fortunate to have partnerships with Kentucky Care, which plays a very important role in counseling, providing some of the support people need when they get out of prison.
“Goodwill Services has been great to work with. They have programs that have been decisive. … And I have a list of second chance employers who are willing to put these people to work.
Margie Silva, external career coach for Goodwill Industries in Paducah, and Traci Houchins, head of the resource center for Goodwill Industries, said Goodwill strives to create a “supportive community” for inmates looking for a better life.
“One of the biggest obstacles they face is the basics of life,” said Silva. “Getting out, re-entering the labor market is a huge obstacle for these people.
“So what Goodwill is doing is trying to fill this gap where people come out of jail, we’re going to be that missing puzzle piece and work with them on resumes, interview skills and advocate for these people so that they can continue to have successful jobs and a good quality of life.
Goodwill has a program called RISE – Successfully Reintegrating People Every Day – which provides these services.
“The goodwill is there to support them on this journey in partnership with (McCracken County Jail),” Silva said. “We’re that extra set of support to wrap them around and provide these wrap-around services. “
Houchins said the RISE program started at Goodwill in Louisville and has expanded to Bowling Green.
“Our mission this year was to bring him to Paducah,” she said. “We have Margie in place; his office is actually located inside the Goodwill store (at 2592 Lone Oak Road).
“Any job seeker can enter the street. One thing they have to come to terms with right off the bat is a day and a half of class – we call them ‘soft skills’. They teach self-presentation. If I have been incarcerated or have not worked, how can I say what I have done in the past five years? “
The courses also teach teamwork, reliability, conflict resolution, and other topics to help people find and keep jobs.
At the end of the course, they went to Silva to determine a career path.
Goodwill also helps people find necessities like uniforms, equipment, and other needs to help people keep jobs.
Gerren Lawson is a Recovery Coach and Peer Support Specialist at Kentucky Cares.
“Basically I help people with anything from their mental health issues to addiction issues,” he said. “I help people develop a recovery plan that meets their needs. I put people in touch with employment opportunities, food resources, housing resources.
Lawson said he spoke with Puckett about his work with inmates with mental health or addiction issues.
“It’s a revolving door for a lot of them,” Lawson said. “They come out, they start doing the same thing again and it’s only a matter of time before they’re back in the justice system.
“I told Arnie that what they’re doing in prison – developing the skills to get a meaningful job – is great, but they have these jobs, but what are they doing to deal with their mental health and addiction issues. when they go out?
Kentucky Cares uses its expertise to help inmates solve these issues so they can better maintain these jobs and put their lives in better order.
“Kentucky Cares cannot solve all of their problems and the job cannot solve all of their problems or meetings and things,” he said, “but if you put all of these things together and work as a community, it just increases the likelihood of success.
“Let’s say a person has a job and is getting help for their mental health issues. Their chances increase all the more of not backing down.
Lawson said Kentucky Cares was working with Phyllis Nunn of the Eastern Kentucky Co-op Employment Program and Time Plus to help people find what he called “second chance employment opportunities.”
“Here at Kentucky Cares, (the inmates) have more responsibility,” Lawson said. “They get drug tested when they show up for their dates and they get engaged.
“A lot of employers take this into consideration: ‘This individual is doing these other things to try not to go back to the way of life that he lived. But, regardless of what second chance employees do, there is still a huge stigma attached to it. “
Puckett said another goal of the program is to become a model for state prisons.
“Thanks to the Delta Workforce grant program, we ended up getting a grant of just under $ 280,000 to buy tools, pay our instructors, pay for training aids,” he said. “It’s a three-year grant, and we were able to get it.
Puckett said the prison has been criticized for not offering similar opportunities to inmates.
“I share that, but here are the realities,” he said. “In our female population, at one point we only have two, three, four people who are classified to get out of the secure part of the prison.
“Some of them have other conditions, like they are wanted in another state or they have an open charge. We have classification problems that prevent us from creating vocational training programs. We want to, but we just haven’t been able to.
Puckett added that the prison was working on securing a coding course through a company called Codify that would allow women to train for careers in this field.
To participate in any of the training programs, an inmate must be classified to qualify for a work program outside the penal institution.
“The Department of Corrections work program consists of places that are nonprofit government entities,” Puckett said. “I watch these guys (inmates), and if they play by the rules, they have a good work ethic and they cooperate, they keep themselves from being held accountable – these are the people I watch to put them in these.” programs because they have shown me that they can do the right thing.
The Sun spoke to current inmates taking welding lessons at the Paducah Innovation Hub after the students returned home for the day.
“This is a great opportunity for us inmates,” said Ricky Lee. “It gives us something to lean on, earn money and take care of our families. For people who do not have experience in the industry, it is a great experience for us. It’s a great program.
“It means a lot to me,” said Dan Miller. “It’s an opportunity to get a job when I get out of here. It creates opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Brandon Wilbur, Welding Instructor at the Paducah Area Technical Center, is the Inmate Welding Course instructor at the Paducah Innovation Center.
“I like being able to take someone who’s been in this vicious cycle of prison and doesn’t know any other skills and show them some technical skills that they can learn anywhere in the world and make a living with it.” , did he declare. .
“We’re trying to get them all to where they can navigate a job site when they get out of here and get a meaningful job that will keep them out of this vicious cycle. “
Companies wishing to participate in Project Phoenix or hire ex-inmates should contact the McCracken County Jail at 270-444-4730.