The Department of Corrections recently stopped offering college classes in prisons and is focusing on vocational training.
A coal mining program in Branchville, just graduated its first class of students. D.J. Coomer, 33, says he used to think about getting a job in one of the coal mines in his hometown of Princeton. But he says he never imagined when he went to prison for dealing methamphetamine he would come out with a coal mining license.
“You know, being able to get out, and possibly obtaining a job that’s going to start you out, just starting pay $12, $13 an hour,” Coomer says. “I mean, that should be benefit enough to keep a person from using or going back to that type of lifestyle.”
Prisoners in the program have to come from counties where coal or other kinds of minerals are mined, and they cannot have certain violent or drug-related convictions. The program is an example of the kind of program the Department of Corrections is promoting because it matches inmates directly with jobs.
Branchville Superintendent Gil Peters says job-training programs are the best way to make sure prisoners in his facility don’t come back once they get out.
“Are we gonna take that time and try to make them better citizens? That’s what the coal mining and other programs are about, is to make them a better citizen,” Peters says. “So that when they go back and they’re your neighbor or my neighbor, maybe that they will fall back on some of the programming and training they’ve received here and become productive citizens.”
Many former educators in the prison system’s academic programs however disagree with Peters and say job-training programs do not teach prisoners more abstract life lessons that will help them after they’re released.