TAVARES — Hoping to build on the success of the Inmate Sewing and Textile Program introduced almost two years ago, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office has launched the Inmate Construction Academy.
The academy, like the textile program, is a vocational program for inmates that tracks their work hours and documents their skills so they can move into well-paying jobs after serving time.
“I keep track of their hours they put in, and when they get released they’ll get a certificate with those hours on it,” said Master Deputy Dave Wolniak, who supervises the inmates. “So they can put that in their resume with their application to a company and have something on paper that says this is what we did, this is how many hours I did.”
The inmates started working in early April with Habitat for Humanity, which provides work sites, tools, materials and inspections for the projects, said Capt. Mike Fayette.
The first project they’ve been assigned is a house in Eustis, and in their first week they were learning to do plumbing. Danielle Stroud, Habitat’s director of development, said the inmates would be taking that house from start to finish, occasionally switching projects during ongoing inspections.
Wolniak said the inmates learn from each other and from Habitat personnel. One inmate had worked in plumbing 20 years ago and was rediscovering the trade. He helped other inmates keep up with the work even as they had just learned it.
The plumbers were fairly impressed, Wolniak said, and indicated he’d be willing to hire people out of the program after their release.
Sgt. Fred Jones said that’s the end-game. The Textile Program currently has a few relationships like that. Women can approach local textile companies and be open about their past without worrying it will cost them a job because of solid relationships between the programs and local business.
Jones also pointed out the savings that come from operating the programs. He said the women make bed sheets for the jail as well as uniforms, event T-shirts and a variety of other items. They also laser engrave plaques for the county now.
Deputies can also save on dry cleaning costs if they hand their uniforms over to the program for pressing.
Jones said other agencies have started reaching out to them for advice about starting up their own programs.
Wolniak said that prior to the Construction Academy, he worked with four inmates at a time on small construction projects. The goal there was also to save money while renovating or repairing county buildings, including the outreach center the Sheriff’s Office operates at Lake Square Mall.
By Payne Ray firstname.lastname@example.org