Bureau Celebrates Largest PREP Center Graduating Class; 57 Complete Program

By Matthew Estes, Communications Director
This is an opinion piece.

Uniontown, Ala. – “If this keeps up, we’re going to need a bigger piece of paper.” That’s what I told my colleague who, while designing the event program, was faced with the daunting task of adding 57 graduate names to a half-sheet of standard paper. On Friday, April 5, those names became faces filled with accomplishment as the largest class yet graduated from the PREP Center in Perry County. April is Second Chance Month, and we’re thrilled to kick things off by celebrating the achievements of such a large group.

To catch you up, the PREP Center was officially opened on April 21, 2022. It provides reentry and rehabilitation services for probationers and parolees statewide, encouraging incarceration diversion as a sanction response and an option for justice-involved individuals to receive support services and resolve barriers to successful reintegration. The primary program providers at the PREP Center are GEO Group under the advisement of the Alabama Department of Mental Health, J.F. Ingram State Technical College, and Alabama Power, who work together to provide mental health assistance, substance use disorder treatment, education, and employment readiness services to participants.

During his speech, special guest speaker Oliver Robinson with Stop Recidivism Now said there are 54 new skilled members of the workforce. I’m a firm believer of celebrating the success of others in any situation, and nowhere is that more tangible than when one acquires new job skills. In addition to PREP Graduation certificates, each participant walked out with a packet of job skill certificates from J.F. Ingram State Technical College and other program providers. They put in the work, and each piece of paper is a key to high paying jobs and further deterrent from recidivism. It doesn’t matter that these people were formerly incarcerated, these certificates are valuable in anyone’s professional skillset.

I can’t weld, and the prospect of climbing trees with chainsaws looks terrifying. I had to look up what a skid steer is before writing this article. Before the job training programs provided at the PREP Center, many of these individuals likely felt the same. However, they have learned to accomplish difficult tasks and have the paperwork to prove it, which can lead to a fulfilling career, economic prosperity, and a dramatically reduced chance of ever going back to prison.

This was a moment in history for the program, existing at a crossroad between the vision and ambition of the program’s inception and a future when rehabilitation programs like this become routine. Fifty-seven people sounds like a lot, and it is, but the future will bring even more probationers, parolees, and mandatory supervised release individuals through the PREP Center. Seeing where this program ends up over the next few years is going to be a fun ride. In the meantime, however, we should probably stock up on some larger sheets of paper.