Wise Works … and studies

Mike Still • May 4, 2019 at 6:30 PM

WISE — Participants in a Wise County work release program have a new option to work off their sentences — classroom work.

Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp and Regional Adult and Career Education Program — RACE 1 — manager Rebecca Scott have announced a new partnership for alternative sentencing in the county court system.

Wise Works already allows non-violent misdemeanor and felony offenders to do community service in place of jail or prison time, Slemp said that, at any one time, 25 to 35 offenders are working on road or waterway cleanup or at the county animal shelter. Those options now include working toward a G.E.D. or taking workforce training programs.

“It kind of organically happened,” Slemp said Thursday, explaining how he and now-departed assistant prosecutor Ross Powers looked at G.E.D. education as part of the start of Wise Works in 2017.

Other projects took precedence in the last four years, Slemp said, but a National Public Radio piece earlier this year on the county’s Drug Court program got Scott’s attention.

“Rebecca Scott came in to see (Wise Works Director Brian Caldwell) and said, ‘We need to be part of this,’ ” Slemp said.

Now, Wise Works participants can include G.E.D. class time on top of their normal weekly hours on cleanup, shelter or other work projects. For each hour of completed class time, an offender can earn one hour off their sentence too.

If an offender already has a G.E.D. or diploma, they can take work training classes.

“These adults will benefit from workforce readiness classes, including instruction in digital skills, financial literacy, soft skills and work ethics,” Scott said. “At our class sites they can earn national certificates, improve their basic skills and ultimately, earn their GED.”

County judges can now consider the education option for a sentence to Wise Works, Slemp said, and defense attorneys and current program participants are being told about it.

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