Mississippi inmates receive first-ever welding diplomas behind bars – chance for success, freedom after incarceration at Missis

Published 5:36 am Tuesday, September 5, 2023

At the Mississippi Correctional Institute for Women, ten female inmates not only received diplomas they may have also found the opportunity for success and freedom after incarceration.

Finding a job after prison may be one of the biggest challenges inmates face at the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Ten female inmates became the first-ever graduating class in the MDOC’s welding vocational program.

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Female inmates at MCIW on the grounds of the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl were among the first last year to enroll in intensive classroom study to master welding, starting with simulators in MDOC’s new welding trailer. The trailer moves among prisons around the state. After inmates pass rigorous tests, they are certified by the National Center for Construction Education & Research, the national standard in construction training.

The graduates met that standard and will be employable in a multitude of heavy industry from ironworks to shipbuilding. MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain said many of the inmates completing the program will help teach other inmates following them.

 “We have to have these first ones with their degrees, certified and qualified, so they can become teachers so we can have more degrees,” Commissioner Cain said. “A lot of people here need to learn how to weld, get a good job.”

Erica Smith, MCIW Program Director said finding a job is a major step toward success in life after incarceration and that crucial step is a challenge for many inmates after leaving prison.

“One of the major issues women have when they’re released from prison is they can’t find work.  So we want to give them something that will help them gain employment when they leave and to help build a promising future,” Smith said.

 The next step is a job fair to be hosted at the prison, in which Mississippi construction industries have signed up to attend, including Ingalls Shipyards and others who need welders. Inmates can substantially shorten their time in prison by attending classes and graduating with certified diplomas in skills and trades.

The Mobile Welding Training Center, unveiled in December 2021, is housed in a 53-foot long refurbished 18-wheel trailer. The Center includes eight high-tech welding simulators and was constructed using no taxpayer funds. It moves among facilities approximately every 90 days.