Greenville County’s detention center is most often filled with transient populations — the majority of inmates are in and out in the time it takes to post bond or attend trial.
That’s one reason Maj. Marshall Stowers says it’s difficult to implement job readiness programs for inmates.
“We’re a little bit different than prisons in that we have mostly pretrial people here, and the people we do have here are here for 90 days or less on criminal offenses,” Stowers said. “So we really can’t offer any of the more long-term programming.”
In years past, the center offered classes on the ACT WorkKeys and administered the test so inmates could show their certificates to future employers.
But Stowers said the center lost funding for the program, along with two staff members, and didn’t have the capacity to keep it up.
The center’s official maximum capacity is 1,277 inmates, but it’s not unusual to have more. The highest number of inmates the center has had was 1,600 back in 2006.
Earlier this month, the count was 1,235, but that number fluctuates daily.
So when Stowers found out that state Sen. Karl Allen (D-Greenville) had introduced a $250,000 line item in the state budget to fund job skills programs at the detention center, he was pleasantly surprised.
The line item partners Greenville Technical College with the detention center to assist in re-entry programs for inmates.
Many of the state’s prisons have a similar partnership with Greenville Tech and other technical colleges, called the Self-Paced In-Class Education (SPICE) Program. But the average length of the SPICE program’s classes is 18 weeks, much longer than the average inmate’s stay at a detention center.
Jennifer Moorefield, associate vice president for economic development and corporate training at Greenville Tech, said the school has gone into other correctional facilities to offer the skills, but not the detention center.
The first class offered as part of the new partnership was for a ServSafe — food safety — certification. After completing the six-hour class, inmates were able to get their certification as well as a partial credit from Greenville Tech.
Stowers said that since it was the pilot class for the program, he offered it to inmates who work or volunteer in the kitchen, of which there are about 55.
“Out of 55, there were 52 that wanted to do it,” Stowers said.
Only 17 were able to take the initial class, but Stowers said they plan on offering more classes soon.
Timothy Oquinn, Raven Davis, and Brent Gowan were among the 17 in the class. All were in the center for charges of either drug violations, probation violations, or burglary.
Oquinn, who had been in the center for a little more than two months, said he hopes the certification will help him get a job and better enable him to legally earn money.
“I enjoy cooking and the restaurant industry, and it’s a big help when you’re doing an application when you’ve got that ServSafe,” Oquinn said. “A lot of restaurants nowadays require you to have that.”
Gowan said the class primarily covered safety hazards, cross-contamination, and food preparation temperatures.
Gowan plans on going to a rehabilitation center once he’s released, but he hopes to use the certification while he’s there.
“I know they have a kitchen, so I’ll probably be able to take that with me there,” Gowan said.
For Davis, he hopes the training will help him get his old job as a fry cook back.
But more than skills, the class also gave them a reprieve from the monotonous routine of the detention center. It reminded them of what they could accomplish upon release.
“When you’re here, you lose a lot of what you had,” Oquinn said. “When you come out, you really don’t have nothing. And it’s so easy to do the wrong thing for money — as far as a job — but it’s hard to do the right thing.”
“When a class like this [gives you] one step forward to someone hiring you, it’s going to make it easier to step into a job instead of stealing or selling drugs.”