Vocational program for inmates provides skills for life after incarceration

Inmate programs are designed to help jail inmates have better lives both in and out of incarceration. Hillsborough County has over forty of these programs – from substance abuse to youth services to financial literacy.

One of the most successful is the Veterans Resurgence Program. Here, veterans that have found themselves in jail can be with other veterans and find ways to cope with their issues.  They learn life skills too.  

Bruce Cowart, a Navy veteran, is one of these veterans living in the program’s pod within the Hillsborough County Jail. He told FOX 13 there is no reason to believe he will repeat some of his past mistakes because of the program.  

“There’s no reason for anybody to come in here, do this program and get out and have issues,” he said. “The homelessness, the breaking the law – there should be no reason for it.”

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said hopes these inmate programs will help break the cycle of recidivism.

Now, the jail is about to open a new one. The Vocational Trade Center that is teamed with Erwin Technical College.

“We’re changing the course of their life,” Chronister told FOX 13. “We’re getting them the PTSD treatment. They’re in group therapy. They’re getting life-skills therapy. We’re helping them with vocational therapy.”

Through the program here, inmates will learn new skills, which include automotive, welding, plumbing, electrical and operating a forklift.

Sheriff Chronister said this is the culmination of a holistic approach to helping inmates.  

“One of the first things I remember was taking this holistic approach and fixing inmates – whether it’s mental health treatment, addiction treatment and the next part would get them some type of education,” he explained. “Whether it’s their GED, whether it’s a life-skill program and now, as you can see, the culmination: vocational training.” 

Vocational training is where inmates will leave jail with a skill and, like Chronister said, "not go back to the life they know because they are armed with this trade now."

For Cowart, he had the opportunity to leave jail a few weeks ago, but decided to stay so he can finish the Veterans Resurgence Program.