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New inmate job training program offers a path forward both in and out

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media
Sheree Thomas teaches inmates how to take vital signs on their last day of training

A new program in one Delaware prison is giving inmates a job both inside and out.


Eight inmates at James T. Vaughn in Smyrna are completing the first session of a new home health aid program, started by Susan Conley, who manages medical operations for the Department of Correction.


Inmates have spent the past six weeks going through an almost identical program to one a student would complete in a school setting.


Sheree Thomas teaches the same program at Delaware Tech, and says teaching these inmates has been very rewarding.


“I wanna say that they’re more grateful, honestly, than some of my workforce students out in the community,” said Thomas. “They’re just ready and eager to learn. I always teach them that now they’re talking about being certified as a professional, so the way you handle yourself has to be totally different than the way you did before.”


After graduating from this program, these inmates can use their skills in the prison, helping eldery or disabled inmates with day-to-day care; such as getting them out of bed, preparing meals or writing letters.


Thomas says she doesn’t treat this class any different than one she’d teach on the DelTech campus. Of course, she says there are some differences that require adaptation for a prison setting.


For example, Thomas says nowadays, students studying for their certification will do most of their test-taking and homework online, but she’s instead had to print out tests and worksheets for inmates to complete.


And because of security concerns, there are certain medical tools inmates aren’t allowed access to — so hands-on training isn’t available, but inmates still learn about everything.


And while working in the prison, the inmates won’t participate in any medical or intimate care; such as administering medications, taking vital signs or bathing. Conley says those decisions are also all because of security and privacy concerns.


These inmates will also be among the highest paid in Delaware’s prisons. According to a spokesperson for the DOC, the specific wage can’t be disclosed, but prison wages in Delaware range from $0.25/hour to $2.00/hour.


Jeffrey Crippen has been an inmate in Delaware for five years. He says without this program, he would have never realized he enjoyed this kind of work.


“Programs are needed here, and more programs are needed,” Crippen said. “I think that they going in the right direction and hopefully that they continue to grow in that direction — to help people, allow them to go out of here and be whole, and be better individuals and human beings.”


When Crippen is released in two and half years, he can connect with DelTech’s workforce training program, become fully licensed as a Certified Nursing Assistant, and pursue a job in a field that needs more workers.


Conley says the program provides professionally trained inmates to help with hospice care so the department does not need as much outside help -while offering inmates an opportunity to build real-world skills and immediate job training when released.


Credit Roman Battaglia / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
Inmates participated in six weeks of training, meeting four times per week in both video conferences and in-person trainings.

Inmates chosen for the program are generally required to have around 3 or more years left on their sentence. Conley says that’s in part so the prison can make use of the skills they’re teaching these inmates.


Conley says there are around 70 inmates in Vaughn Correctional alone who can benefit from the assistance these inmates will provide.


She says training enough inmates so there are around 4 patients per inmate is the goal, but that number depends on what level of assistance each patient needs.


The inmates will also have to do continuing training monthly. Conley says the ongoing training mimics what CNA’s have to do on the outside, they typically need 12 hours of continuing education a year.


She says this pilot has been a huge success, and she'd like to see it expand to other prisons in Delaware. Vaughn correctional was chosen to host the first program because Conley says that’s where most of Delaware's inmates that require assistance are housed.


She says eight people ended up being the right amount of students in the program, and is looking to do another round next spring. 


Conley adds because of this success, and with these inmates heading out to do work in the prison, she hopes the program can secure more training equipment, such as more mannequins, which would help create a more efficient program.


Roman Battaglia is a corps member withReport for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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