Five inmates at the Walton County Jail (two from Escambia County and three from Walton County) are currently in the fourth week of a five-week heavy equipment course.
The course offers five different machines for them to learn to use, with a different machine each week, and Frank Araneo, the Detention Deputy that oversees work crews on vocational programs, said he's working to help the inmates break out of the "revolving door" of jail.
"I think this gets them out from behind the eight ball, and gives them an opportunity to move forward," Araneo said.
All machinery used in the course was leased from Beard Equipment Co., a John Deere dealership, and a large percentage of the program's funding was taken from inmate welfare, something Corey Dobridnia, Walton County Public Information Officer, said is "just another way to put our taxpayer dollars at work in a positive way."
This is the first heavy equipment course the Walton County Jail has offered, but there are a number of correctional courses designed to help rehabilitate inmates, including welding, farming and anger management classes, along with programs to obtain OSHA and GED certificates.
Kristen Rodriguez, Support Service Director at the Walton County Jail, said inmates are screened for a disciplinary history and almost must go through an extensive interview process to qualify for the heavy equipment course.
Once inmates complete the five-week course, they are given a (nonindustrial) certificate listing their course-completed hours and what areas/machines they worked best with.
"Hopefully when they get out, they will be able to use the jail as a reference and people will be able to research the course and say, 'OK, this is what they learned,'" Dobridnia said.
Dobridnia also said they reach out to local businesses to see what skills are most required.
"I enjoy it," Joshua Burgess, an inmate at the Walton County Jail, said. "It gives me an opportunity to have a job when I get out. ... I'm glad that they're giving inmates the opportunity to better themselves."
Once the course is over, the inmates will continue excavating the land surrounding the jail to farm and use for future training.
"The success is going to be based on their drive, we can only do so much for them," Dobridnia said. "We're leading them to water, hopefully they will drink. ... We want to teach these guys a new skill set so that when they rejoin the community, they are better equipped to be a productive member of society."