New program gives Chesterfield Co. inmates a jump start back to the workforce

Planning for life outside the jail cell

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) - A new program in Chesterfield County is giving county inmates a chance to get a head start on a second chance before they ever get out of jail.

“I spent a long time as a high school principal and graduation day was always a great day,” said Dr. Judd Starling, the College and Career Navigator at the Chesterfield County Adult Education Center. “This is like graduation day every week.”

That’s because each week Dr. Judd Starling is getting to help inmates transition from behind bars to back to work.

“They leave with a certificate, they leave with some counseling, they leave with some career counseling, and they leave with some hope… and that’s the biggest thing, I think,” added Starling.

The program started just four weeks ago and is a partnership between the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office, the Chesterfield County School District and the Chesterfield County Detention Center. Inmates who are incarcerated at the detention center typically serve a sentence of 90 days or less. The program allows the inmates to go to the Adult Education Center once a week to gain skills that will help them find a job once they are released from jail.

“The [inmates] that we’re dealing with here - they are mostly misdemeanors,” said Sheriff James “J.D.” Dixon. “And they’re coming from our work camp.”

“In those 90 days, we can do a lot,” added Starling. These guys can come out of their time in jail and time with us with two Ready-to-Work credentials, and they can walk into an employer and say, ‘Hey, I earned this.’”

The Chesterfield County Adult Education Center is actually just a half a mile down the road from the Chesterfield County Detention Center. Dr. Starling says one of the inmates who went through the program actually chose to walk to the education center first upon getting released.

“I thought that was awesome,” said Sheriff Dixon. “The guy actually got out that morning and walked down here to be a part of this program.”

The credentials available to the inmates are through WIN testing which Starling says is a national work readiness credential. Starling says inmates can earn a soft skills credential which shows they have the necessary skills to work with other people in a work setting and be a valuable employee. They can also earn a Ready-to-Work credential that shows their ability to perform most jobs that are available in today’s marketplace.

Starling adds since the program started one inmate has already found work. He and Sheriff Dixon believe that’s only the beginning.

“Even though they’re incarcerated, they’re not going to be there forever,” said Sheriff Dixon. “We can get them out to be productive citizens here in Chesterfield, tax-paying citizens - what a great thing we can do for them as an inmate transitioning from the detention center back into the workforce.”

Starling says the program costs less than $2,000 and is funded through a federal grant and a donation from Dollar General. He adds anyone in the county can come in for the same type of job help for free at any time.

“Once word got out, people questioned, ‘Why are you doing this for the inmates?’” said Starling. “But we’re doing this for everyone. Chesterfield County Schools and Chesterfield County Adult Ed-- we are a service to the community, and we just look for ways to help.”

If you’d like more information, you can reach out to Starling at the Adult Ed Center by calling 843-623-2200.

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