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Ky. detention center transforms old warehouse into reentry program hub to combat recidivism

An old medical warehouse will now be used to teach Pulaski County inmates skills from lawn care to welding, in hopes of reducing recidivism


Pulaski County Detention Center

By Carla Slavey
Commonwealth Journal, Somerset, Ky.

SOMERSET, Ky. — The word “recidivism” refers to those people who are convicted of crimes and who continue to commit further crimes — and are subsequently convicted again — continuing to be caught up in a cycle they cannot get out of.

One of the ways jails have of combatting this is to help them learn the skills they need to succeed in life outside of the jail’s walls. Programs like the Pulaski County Detention Center’s Reentry Program assist with this.

Now, PCDC is showing off one of the spaces it uses for that Reentry Program, a former medical records warehouse turned technical training center. And its purchase and remodel by the jail is a success story all on its own.

On Tuesday, Jailer Anthony McCollum welcomed the public into what the jail will now be using to teach inmates skills from lawn care to welding, in hopes of giving them an opportunity to leave their days in jail behind them for good.

The building, a warehouse located on Thannoli Drive, used to be owned by the Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital.

It was sold to the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) which purchased in on behalf of the Pulaski County Fiscal Court as a way of helping the jail with financing.

As Chris Girdler, President/CEO of SPEDA explained, the building was being used by LCRH as a place to store medical records.

“Every inch of this was covered in shelves, medical file storage from front to back,” he said.

But as the rules changed for how medical records could be stored, they hospital no longer needed the facility. Girdler credited LCRH CEO Robert Parker for agreeing to sell the building to SPEDA for less than market value.

From there, McCollum and PCDC were able to make monthly payments on the building. McCollum thanked SPEDA, saying that the jail was not able to afford the $40,000 up front required to purchase the building.

But even though PCDC had the building, McCollum still had to figure out how to remodel it for the reentry program’s purposes. McCollum said that they got a bid from an architect for renovations, and the bid came back for $335,000 — a cost they couldn’t afford.

McCollum said that PCDC Maintenance Mechanic Charles Munsey came up with the idea of doing the work in-house — having the inmates preform the work themselves.

With that, PCDC was able to remodel at a cost of around $60,000.

Even better, McCollum said at present the building is completely debt free, with SPEDA officially handing ownership of the building over to the jail.

The building has already been used to hold forklift training, sewing classes and lawn mowing workshops — McCollum noted that the audience might be surprised as to how many of his inmates did not know how to start or operate a lawn mower or a weed eater.

The reentry program for inmates began around 2021 with SPEDA, Cumberlands Workforce Development, Goodwill Industries Inc. and Somerset Community College teaming up to offer both soft-skills classes and welding certification for inmates.

Concerning the welding courses, McCollum said, “We have graduated 34 students. Ten have started to work at Hendrickson while still incarcerated. Four, as we know of, are still employed out there. The others are employed at other places. One person is actually a team leader at Hendrickson, and one of the people actually works at the front office at Hendrickson. ... We have only had two so far who have reoffended out of the 34 who went through the program.”

In attendance at the open house event was Frank Jemley, President and CEO of the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers.

“We applaud you for two things related to this celebration,” Jemley said. “First, your foresight to aggressively, proactively take on this initiative, to embrace the fair chance system that will help grow your workforce of today and the future of your economy. ... and secondly we want to applaud your big hearts, your altruism.”

Bobby Clue, executive director of the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce noted that he had been told that 99.9% of the people who are in jail are there due to drug-related offenses, and that 99.9% of those people were repeat offenders.

“Wouldn’t it be glorious if there was a way out of that system,” Clue said. “I think this is the step in the right direction. ... This is a transformational program that we’re looking at here. You could break the cycle of 100 years worth of issues.”

County Judge-Executive Marshall Todd told the crowd to look around at the newly-remolded building and “realize what an awesome facility has been developed here in the last couple years. ... Just think what it will do for the community.”

Todd said that inmates who complete their certifications will have a job in front of them and money in a bank account waiting for them upon release. “They have a good future, something they’ve never had before in their lives.”

William Hunt , representing the City of Somerset said that from a judicial and law enforcement standpoint, the reentry program was a “small piece that has been missing from the judicial system for a very long time.”

In thanking McCollum for creating the program, Hunt said, “This is what winning looks like. This is a community winning and coming together.”

Both Girdler and Clue thanked LCRH and Parker for his role in allowing the reentry program to expand, with Clue presenting Parker with a certificate of appreciation on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce.

Likewise, McCollum was presented with a commemorative “key” from the various organizations and entities that worked to help bring the building to life.

What do your policies say about inmate releases and continuity of care following the release from custody? In the video below, risk management expert and Lexipol co-founder Gordon Graham outlines considerations around inmate releases from jail and continuity of care:


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