Building Foundations for Offender Programs through Federal Grants and Community Partnerships

Article excerpt

Since the mid-1980s, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Tampa, Fla., has been faced with a growing inmate population and the challenge of funding new jail construction and hiring and training staff to open facilities. During the past 10 years, the number of bookings has increased by 37 percent, with 60,864 offenders booked in 2001 and an average daily population of 3,408 inmates.

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The majority of inmates booked in Hillsborough County are released back into the community on bond, pretrial release, completion of a sentence probation or community control. The sheriff's office is committed to providing programs enabling inmates to progress toward self-improvement and establish a foundation upon which they can build once released from jail.

However, with tight county budgets, it has been imperative for sheriff's office staff to be creative and open-minded in seeking new means to enhance existing programs and implement new ones. Creating new partnerships and collaborations and pursuing grant funding, therefore, has been instrumental to Hillsborough County's success.

Educational And Vocational Services Partnerships

One such partner, the Hillsborough County School Board, has a nonmonetary contract with the sheriff's office to provide academic and vocational services throughout the jail system. Currently, 45 adult and community education staff members provide instruction and support services. Academic teachers provide literacy and adult basic education, GED preparation, work force readiness and English as a second language. On average, 880 inmates are enrolled weekly in the classes held during day and evening hours. Every other week, a state testing agent administers the GED test at a jail site. During the past decade, nearly 3,000 inmates have taken the test.

With the opening of the Orient Road Jail in 1990, the sheriff's office and school board partnered to implement two new vocational training programs--culinary arts and ornamental horticulture. Working together, the two agencies designed programs to benefit inmates through on-the-job training. They also demonstrated the programs' value to the community by providing necessary jail services at no cost to taxpayers.

Vocational program participation is voluntary and inmates are required to attend five hours of vocational training classes Monday through Friday. Both programs involve hands-on training and classroom instruction, and each has 18 to 20 inmates enrolled on a daily basis.

After 10 years, the culinary arts program has become an integral part of jail kitchen operation. Under the supervision of culinary instructor Shirley Colmenares, program participants are responsible for salad and dessert preparation, setting up the food line and serving staff. The sheriff's office contracts with an outside vendor to provide food service to its jails and the culinary arts program participants are included in the contract as staff provided by the sheriff's office. If they were not available, contract staffing levels would have to be increased at a significant cost to taxpayers.

The ornamental horticulture program cleared three-fourths of an acre behind the Orient Road Jail to place a greenhouse and shade-house area for plant propagation. The instructor, Allen Boatman, and his students grow a large variety of ornamental flowers, shrubs and trees. Four to five times annually, Boatman holds a public plant sale in front of the jail. All the money raised at the plant sales is used to purchase materials such as soil, seedlings, pots and equipment for the program.

Work has been ongoing during the past two years at a 10-acre site at the Falkenburg Road Jail, which will become the new home for the horticulture program. Using inmate canteen funds, a commercial well, septic tank and classroom have been constructed on the site. Two large greenhouses are being designed and are scheduled to be built by May. …