Welding Education in Correctional Facilities: Spurring Positive Change

Written by: Farah Yamini
Written by: Farah Yamini

Correctional facilities are tasked with rehabilitating inmates and preparing them for successful reentry into society. Rehabilitation can come in many forms, including drug treatment programs, behavioral therapy, family reunification, religious services, and access to education and vocational training. Of course, it doesn’t always work. In fact, statistics gathered by researchers at the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that many offenders aren’t correcting their behavior when released from prison. For example, one study tracked almost half-a-million prisoners in 30 states, and found that two-thirds of prisoners (67.8%) were rearrested for similar crimes within three years of release.

There are many reasons for why released prisoners return to a life of crime, but one cause is certainly economic. A large percentage of formerly incarcerated people simply lack the knowledge, training, and skills needed to attain a decent-paying job. For example, about 70 percent of Georgia’s inmates don’t have a high school diploma or a GED certificate. This means that many of Georgia’s released inmates will have little else on their job resume but a felony conviction.

According to the latest studies, a renewed commitment to high school completion programs, access to college education, and training for a vocation offers the best solution. According to a RAND Corporation study on correctional education, inmates who participated in high school/GED programs had 30 percent lower odds of recidivating than those who had not. The meta-analysis also found that the odds of obtaining post-release employment among inmates who participated in academic or vocational correctional education was 13 percent higher than the odds for those who had not participated.  Needless to say, a reduction in crime and an increase in hardworking taxpayers is a great social benefit. It’s also an economic one. In a recent interview, one of the study’s authors, Lois Davis, pointed out that, “every dollar invested in a prison education program will ultimately save taxpayers between $4 and $5 in re-incarceration costs.

Folsom State Prison inmate Johnny Ames demonstrates his welding skills. SOURCE KALW
Folsom State Prison inmate Johnny Ames demonstrates his welding skills.

Welding Education in Correctional Facilities
Several correctional facilities are offering welding education as part of their cost-effective solution to the post-incarceration employment problem. In fact, in recent years welding programs within prisons have begun sprouting all over the U.S. According to Crimesolutions.gov, the most commonly reported trade credentials attained in prison are in “construction, occupational safety, plumbing or electrical apprenticeships, automotive service, and welding.” The trend is currently taking root in Oregon, Washington, Chicago, Kansas, and Georgia.

Many of these programs teach welding technology and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills in order to help their inmates attain welding certificates and industry-recognized credentials within prison walls. Students who sign up for the program are given welding torches, personal protection equipment, base and filler metals, and other materials necessary for proper training. Many of these correctional programs also help inmates connect with prospective employers through apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships are important because they increase the inmate’s chances of finding gainful employment when released.

Success in Georgia, Walker State Prison’s Welding Program
One facility that is seeing great success with their welding program is Walker State Prison in Rock Spring, Georgia. Around this time last year, 33 inmates in Walker State Prison filed in line for an ‘unprison-like’ moment. They were getting ready to walk the stage to receive their diplomas as the first graduating class of the vocational welding program. According to the prison’s warden, Bruce Lee, the program was open to prisoners who complete their GED and are within five years of their release date. The program is one of Governor Nathan Deal’s major initiatives to help felons stay out of jail. The program, which started in August 2014, is a 22-week course featuring 106 hours of lectures and 140 hours of hands-on lab time. Participants are introduced to welding technology and skills while earning 13 credit hours from Central Georgia Tech. These credits are transferable to any technical college within the Technical College System of Georgia.

Dr. L.C. “Buster” Evans, Assistant Commissioner for Education and Programs for the Georgia Department of Corrections, was the keynote speaker at the graduation. He said, “You will leave as a part of the solution to society, as part of the solution for your families, and part of the solution for the American economy.”

Welding instructor Jeremy Worley (standing in center) with welding program inmates at Walker State Prison. SOURCE: NHPR
Welding instructor Jeremy Worley (standing in center) with welding program inmates at Walker State Prison.

Why Welding Education Provides a Solution
Welding education in prisons is not just improving the lives of American citizens, it’s also helping the nation as a whole. For starters, these prison programs can help reduce the severity of the ever-growing skills gap that threatens to leave thousands of jobs unfilled. The American Welding Society estimates there will be a shortage of nearly 300,000 welding-related positions by 2020. Jeremy Worley, who teaches welding at a technical college in north Georgia, says the demand for welders is growing “quicker than we can get them out.” According to Worley, technical college presidents receive calls from employers with hundreds of jobs to fill right now.

Secondly, welding education in prisons also reduces recidivism. Recidivism refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior after they receive sanctions or undergo intervention for a previous crime. Recidivism is measured by criminal acts that resulted in re-arrest, reconviction, or return to prison with or without a new sentence during a three-year period following the prisoner’s release. Recidivism means that more government funding has to be invested in order to house recurring inmates and keep more police on the streets. As a result, recidivism is a not just a problem for offender’s who must return to jail; it’s a problem for state governments, and by extension, taxpayers.

However, there are solutions. Launching education programs and schools is one of the “most effective ways to reduce recidivism,” said Marc Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Among all the technical trades that are offered, however, welding is proving to be the most successful for recidivism because American employers are in desperate need of welders.  Do you know someone who graduated from an in-prison welding program? How do you feel about welding educational in correctional facilities? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

AWS Learning is great resource for comprehensive online courses that present the principles of many welding processes in an engaging, easy-to-understand format. For more information about welding education, certification, and new ways to expand your welding career, check out our other blogs, podcasts, virtual conferences, online courses, and digital tools designed to help you grow and succeed.

One thought on “Welding Education in Correctional Facilities: Spurring Positive Change”

  1. Excellent Article. Thank you. I am a welding instructor that is well aquainted with these listed statistics.
    Hopefully there will be more schools opening soon. Ones that are set up right. And ones that run effectively for the long term. Best Wishes!

    Brian Prendergast

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