Russell DuBose (left) of Phifer Incorporated and Brad Newman (right) of ZF Chassis Systems discuss challenges and successes with PREP at the Alabama Works conference.

A former inmate has received a job thanks to the training and pipeline created by the Prison Re-entry Program (PREP) of West Alabama, a partnership among West Alabama Works, Lifelink, LLC, the Alabama Department of Corrections and West Alabama employers.

With an extremely low unemployment rate in Tuscaloosa County, but an ever rising need for capable and reliable employees, leaders in business and industry have turned to alternate means for finding workers, creating the PREP program.

The PREP program combines Ready-to-Work, a five-week course in interview and soft skills offered at Shelton State Community College and other community colleges in Alabama, with CORE, a character development program facilitated by LifeLink LLC. Inmates are selected for the program based on behavior and sentence length.

“These two programs together will hopefully begin to fill the need for qualified workers, while also giving ex-offenders a second chance in society. This program helps fill the needs of our employers as our unemployment rate in Tuscaloosa County is low, while also giving those who have been rehabilitated in the Alabama Department of Corrections a new lease on life,” said West Alabama Works Executive Director and Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama COO Donny Jones.

Program participants complete the CORE program first, which lasts 18 months. Then, they enroll in Ready-to-Work coursework and vocational skills for six months. Once the participant is eligible for parole, the program graduate will interview for employment.

In addition to providing employment, PREP helps participants re-integrate into society. Many participants may have been in the Department of Corrections System for over 10 years and face barriers upon release, such as housing and transportation. Business sponsors help ease this transition through housing and transportation assistance and life-skills coaching.

“PREP creates the conditions in which the ex-offender can support themselves and have full time employment. The PREP team is excited about the future of the program and is looking forward to additional employment opportunities and changing the future of prisoner re-entry for our region and state,” Jones said.