By MARY SELL and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
Montgomery, Ala. — LifeTech, a successful job-training center for people recently paroled from state prisons, is in a “phase of uncertainty,” Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy Baker said recently.
The residential program for more than a decade has been a partnership between the ACCS and the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Last month, Alabama Daily News reported that some lawmakers were concerned about a “significant scale back” coming to the program
At an ACCS board meeting last week, Baker said leadership at Pardons and Paroles is reconsidering its involvement with the facility.
“Without any consultation on the part of Pardons and Parole, with either us or (the Alabama Department of Corrections) — I’m not even sure they consulted with the Governor’s Office — Pardons and Parole leadership made the decision that (operating LifeTech) was not something they were suppose to be doing,” Baker told the board. “Which brought a lot of confusion to the table. And on top of that, a group of employees that were uncertain on where they stood as far as employment. They are still employed and we’re going to work through that.”
The ACCS oversees the educational aspect of the site and provides instructors.
Pardons and Paroles spokesman Terry Abbott told ADN that when agency executive director Charlie Graddick, a former Alabama Attorney General, met with a group of stakeholders about LifeTech, he did express serious concern that Pardons and Paroles may not be authorized under state law to operate it.
“We will continue to explore that issue and others as we all work together to determine the best way for the state to properly operate such a facility,” Abbott said.
Meanwhile, the Business Council of Alabama considers workforce training, including for the incarcerated, a priority issue in 2020. Speaking to the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce this week, BCA president and CEO Katie Boyd Britt said the organization is fully behind Gov. Kay Ivey’s goal to add 500,000 newly certified or trained workers by 2025 and added that the state should “get creative” in finding those willing to work.
“We need to take a look at the incarcerated population, those who will eventually be released and eligible to work,” Britt said. “Are we utilizing opportunities to both train workers and reduce recidivism?” Britt said.
Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, is the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and sponsor of most of the legislation in recent years related to Alabama prisons and inmates. An attorney, Ward disagrees with Graddick’s reading of the law.
“I think that’s wrong, I thinks that’s a way to kick the can down the road and not deal with the problem,” Ward said.
He said it’s in the state’s interest to help paroled inmates stay out of prison again, whether that’s through job training or addiction treatment.
“If it reduces recidivism, let’s invest in it,” Ward said. “Let’s keep people from coming back to our prisons.”
Ward and others say the state, trying to fix crowded conditions in its prisons, needs more programs like LifeTech, which has provided skills training to more than 6,300 offenders since 2006 and has a recidivism rate of 13%, less than half of the statewide recidivism rate.
“… I am concerned that we need to find a way to continue the program because the state of Alabama, we need to find ways to make productive citizens out of folks who are incarcerated and are about to get out,” Baker told ADN.
Eighteen-week programs in welding, building construction, small engine repair, horticulture and industrial maintenance are offered at LifeTech.
“The governor and our team are continually having discussions to reach the best decision on this particular facility,” Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said Wednesday.
Baker said he attended a meeting at Ivey’s office that included leadership from Pardons and Paroles, ADOC and some other officials.
“There is no resolution to the issue at this point,” he said. “The results of that meeting were that we do what good government does and appointed a smaller committee, to talk about it. To my knowledge that committee hasn’t functioned anymore since that time, but we’re going to be meeting with corrections.”
The Legislature allocated $2 million for LifeTech in the 2020 education budget. In this year’s General Fund budget, lawmakers added $1 million for security upgrades, including a fence around the educational facility.
Abbott said Pardons and Paroles’ average annual cost for LifeTech in recent years is about $5.2 million.