COLUMBIA — Prisoners at the South Carolina Department of Corrections on the final stretch of their sentences are getting a step up in the job market from a national roofing company.
GAF Materials Corporation’s Roofing Academy certifies students after a week-long course. On April 27, the company completed one of those courses for 16 inmates at Manning Correctional Institute in Columbia, a DOC facility used for job training before inmates are released.
“You don’t have to have a college degree, you don’t have to have anything extra,” said Jay McCord, who runs the multi-state GAF academy. McCord said of the inmates, “They deserve, just like us, to have the opportunity to improve.”
Commercial roofers and contractors have trouble finding workers, McCord said, and they’re willing to hire people right out of a week-long course as long as they’re willing to keep learning. Once participants complete the program, they will receive job offers and placement options in or near their desired destination and will be coached through the application and interview process.
This is the second time GAF has worked in a South Carolina prison — the first being in October 2022. McCord said the company’s goal is to teach a class every six months at Manning, a minimum-security prison. Inmates who take the course typically have about two to three months left in prison.
DOC Director Bryan Stirling credited work-release programs like the GAF course with reducing the prison’s recidivism rate, at about 18 percent, to the lowest in the country.
“I would ask people to give these people a second chance,” Stirling said, adding that he had spoken to commercial roofers in the state, who were all impressed with how quickly and willingly inmates learned the craft.
“They don’t want to go back to prison and be there for their families.”
McCord said there were hesitations about working with inmates, and he himself was a bit hesitant at first, but the attitude the inmates brought to the class quickly changed his mind.
Most of the classes he teaches aren’t held in correctional facilities, but he called SC inmates “the hungriest people I teach who just want to work and just want to learn.” They will range from males in their mid-20s to males in their mid-60s, he said.
Jay McCord of GAF Materials Corporation teaches a week-long introductory roofing course to inmates at Manning Correctional Institute in Columbia with the aim of getting them jobs after they are released. Correctional Facility/Provided
McCord also said Cayce-based Aqua Seal Manufacturing and Roofing helped launch the South Carolina inmate roofing academy. Four people from his previous course applied to Aqua Seal and all are now working for the company, he said.
A 42-year-old Kershaw County inmate said he was excited at the opportunity to get a job in construction, especially after 15 years of incarceration. He was a commercial painter before he was sentenced, and although students can be housed in many communities from Texas to New Jersey to California, he wants to stay in South Carolina after his release, he said.
“It gave people like me a leg up so we could get started right away,” the inmate named George said of the program. He said he also received forklift and carpentry training while at Manning. When asked why he chose roof and build, he said, “The field is wide open.”
The Manning facility on Beckman Drive in Northeast Colombia has been used for work return programs since 2016. Outside of the roofing program, inmates have the opportunity to learn carpentry, welding, plumbing, brickwork and auto mechanics, Stirling said.
Although GAF teaches courses at a men’s facility, Stirling said inmates at Camille Graham Correctional Institute, the women’s prison on Broad River Road, are not without work-return programmes. He said they had the opportunity to learn and get certificates in some of the same trades, such as welding or computer coding.
Stirling also said the aim is to get people into jobs making at least $15 an hour, starting the first day after they are laid off. He wants inmates to have “not just a job, but a career,” he said.
DOC’s efforts to address recidivism rates come at a time when the Richland County jail has faced security and staffing issues, including a warden accused of sexual molestation and two stabbings to inmates in two days. They also follow a ruling by the SC Supreme Court that a convicted murderer released by secret order 16 years early must go back to prison.
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