It’s one thing to come to a conclusion that the recidivism rate is high and brainstorm what can be done to create opportunities for returning citizens to flourish post-incarceration and another thing entirely to implement said ideas which can be challenging. Valencia College and Florida A&M University are among a few institutions of higher learning that have stepped up to the plate by implementing programs to increase the skill sets of current inmates.

These programs have brought innovation to the State of Florida in regards to using education and skills training as a means to empower returning citizens to lead productive lives upon release. Which in turns increases the tax base (once employment is achieved) and lowers the recidivism rate (which increases public safety). The program at Valencia College is a construction skills training. Upon completing the curriculum a graduation is held and the graduates receive 6 construction industry certifications proving they’re capable of performing certain job functions. Look at the amount of construction occurring in the I-4 corridor this certainly is a win/win. The prospective employers have access to qualified applicants and the former inmates have a potential source of legitimate income. The Valencia College graduation is attended by family, employers, Orange County Officials including Mayor Teresa Jacobs! Since the inception of the program, only 10% of the graduates return to incarceration compared to 56% for program non-participants.

Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) has a partnership with the Gadsden County Jail in which the FAMU Research and Extension program teaches horticulture and landscaping to a select group of inmates. In addition, the extension program has begun teaching entrepreneurship in select prisons.  A few obstacles post-release has been getting in for a job interview, getting past the background check, and having the skill-set the employer is looking for.  The aforementioned programs, as well as countless others emerging across the country, are building citizens that want to be an asset to society.   I applaud the courage and conviction of the responsible parties that took the leap of faith in implementing programs that increase the skill sets of inmates. Once those graduates are released that have a sense of pride because they’ve accomplished something and used their time wisely. The translation is hope for a brighter future and the tools to build it from the ground up.