WAYCROSS, GA (WALB) - Georgia is struggling to find jobs for inmates coming out of prison, because they want to keep them from returning behind bars.
But a new program, just launched inside one South Georgia prison, is training inmates to fill one of the state's most in demand jobs when they get out.
The recidivism rate at Georgia prisons is nearly 27%, and officials believe one of the biggest reasons inmates get in trouble again after getting out of prison is the inability to get a job.
So the answer could lie in training those inmates for a good paying job that is in high demand.
"When you shut this truck down, make sure you idle it for 5 to 10 minutes,"
30-year-old Marc Lefevre has been at Ware State Prison for two-and-a-half months, serving hard time for a drug and gun conviction.
"Unfortunately we all make mistakes, fall short," he said. "I'm just glad that they don't hold it against us. Because it is a good opportunity."
Lefevre is also the first inmate selected for the Department of Corrections Diesel Maintenance Technical Program, a pilot program at Ware State.
Diesel mechanic instructor Scott Baxter teaches the program at the prison. A level five facility is the second highest security level in the state. They usually house inmates who have committed high felonies, but are still men who one day will be released back into society.
Baxter volunteered to go behind bars to teach.
Prison officials say they will have little chance, if they can't train them for a second chance.
"To have something when they get out of prison, they have a real skill that they can take with them, and provide for their family and themselves," Ware State Prison official Tom Gramiak said.
INSIDE: Georgia Dept. of Corrections
- 52,000 inmates in Georgia
- 1,396 inmates at Ware State Prison
- $56 - Average cost of an inmate per day
- 2014 state costs: $1,187,400,000
- 30% of inmates unemployed before prison
- Average age of an inmate: 38.3 years
- 6.78% of prison population are women
Leaders asked why not train them for one of the most in demand jobs in Georgia- a diesel mechanic tech. 11 inmates have earned the right to be the first in the 10 month program, teaching them to maintain and troubleshoot diesel engines.
It's a job so in demand that prospective employers donated the equipment needed, including a real Kenworth truck and generator, so they can train on the real things.
"Learning to do and doing to learn are two different things. And here we can actually do it to learn it, not just read about it," Lefevre said.
It's very detailed and challenging work that not everyone can do. But because they are in demand, most techs make more than $40,000 a year to start.
The hope is these men get good jobs when they get out, won't be a menace, and instead an asset to society.
"They need opportunities, to say, 'Hey, we messed up. Now give me a chance.' And that's hopefully what I can instill in these guys," Baxter said.
It was tough competition between the inmates to get in the program's first class, and they have to behave to remain, because a lot is riding on them.
"We're just getting started with this, so we have a lot of high expectations for the future," Gramiak said.
If these inmates one day prove this diesel mechanic program works in keeping men from re-committing crimes and returning to prison, it could be added in other prisons.
Marc Lefevre says his dream is to have a family, and sees this program as his second chance to make a life where he is never behind bars again.
Employers are looking for trained Diesel Mechanic techs, and Georgia prison officials hope these inmates can fill those jobs, instead of doing time behind these walls.
The Diesel Mechanic Tech project is a 10-month training program, but if the inmates complete it they will receive an associate degree from Central Georgia Tech.
Prison officials and prospective employers will be watching to see if this class makes it to graduation in September.