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Community colleges seek funding for workforce development, correctional campus

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

New leadership at the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles prompted the Alabama Community College System to increase its proposed spending on correctional education in the next budget year. 

System Chancellor Jimmy Baker on Wednesday told the ACCS board that the appointment of former state Sen. Cam Ward as director of Pardons and Paroles has resulted in a “different approach, a somewhat significantly different attitude about prison education in general.”

Ward, who’s first full day on the job was Tuesday, told Alabama Daily News he’s been working with Baker and his staff on partnering for more reentry and education programs for people leaving the state’s correctional system.

“I just believe that is part of our core mission,” Ward said. Part of that will be reopening the LifeTech, a successful job-training center for people recently paroled from state prisons, which had been closed this year by BPP’s previous director, Charlie Graddick. 

Ward said he plans to tour the facility soon and get it reopen.

“You’re not going to do it on a dime, but it won’t take that long,” Ward said.

Both Ward and Baker in the last year disagreed with Graddick’s decision to withdraw from LifeTech. Prior to its closure, LifeTech had provided skills training to more than 6,300 offenders since 2006 and had a recidivism rate of 13%, less than half of the statewide recidivism rate.

The ACCS oversaw the educational aspect of the site and provided instructors.

Ward also said he wants to better utilize BPP’s existing day reporting centers around the state that offer reentry and rehabilitation programs, which are also supported by ACCS.

“Those never really took off to the level we had hoped,” Boone Kinard, ACCS’s executive director of external affairs, told the board on Wednesday. “We look forward to working with the new leadership at Pardons and Paroles to move those items forward.”

New in the ACCS’s 2022 budget request is $2 million for correctional education at the Perry County Correctional Center, which is privately owned and currently vacant.

“Our understanding is that you may be hearing something very soon about the state potentially purchasing that facility and so as a result of that, we wanted to put a request in for some money to be able to offer some education and training programs, should that come to fruition,” Kinard said.

Baker said his understanding is that the Perry County site would be a special-use facility, “dealing with mental health and a variety of other kinds of special needs of prisoners.”

Gina Maiola, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kay Ivey, said Wednesday that discussions about the potential use of the Perry County facility are ongoing.

“It is something that the governor and (ADOC Commissioner Jeff) Dunn are hopeful that we can move forward on in some way,” Maiola said. “If renovations are deemed to be necessary, we will thoroughly explore their financial impact during negations to secure the best possible deal for the state.”

In all, ACCS is asking Ivey and the Legislature for a 10% increase to $472.5 million in 2022.

“The majority of the (fiscal year 2022) budget request increases are directed at the colleges’ (operation and maintenance), prison education, adult education and workforce,” said Sara Calhoun, the system’s executive director of fiscal services 

Included in that is a new $10 million request for a credentialing program that Calhoun said would help colleges meet their local workforce development needs.

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