DARTMOUTH, Mass. (WPRI) — The open road is calling.
Trucking companies across the country are seeking commercial drivers to transport goods and inmates at the Bristol County Jail and House of Correction hope to fill some of those positions when their sentence is up.
The goal of a jail is to make sure the inmates don’t return for subsequent crimes in the future. One proven way to reduce recidivism is by inmates getting jobs upon leaving jail.
The Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth offers a variety of classroom and vocational programs including automotive, food safety and sanitation, small engine repair, and as of July 2022, commercial driver’s license (CDL) training.
“I can and I will and I just keep telling myself every day, ‘I’ve got this,'” said Darnessa Almeida, one of three women enrolled in the CDL training program.
There are just six inmates taking these classroom and simulator classes.
Almeida was studying to become a nurse before she was incarcerated. That’s still her passion, but she thought it would be best to keep all roads (so to speak) open for her.
“I was like, ‘You know what? You don’t know unless you try something,'” she said.
12 News spoke with Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux in just his first full week in office. He said while previous, longtime Sheriff Tom Hodgson created this opportunity at the jail, Heroux hopes to expand it.
“Now there are 6 people enrolled in this program. 6 people out of 700 inmates. I mean less than 1 percent of our inmates are participating in this. That’s something I’d like to increase a lot,” Heroux said.
Heroux acknowledged the infrastructure and staffing simply isn’t there yet, but it’s a start.
Former Sheriff Hodgson learned about the program at a sheriff’s meeting at the White House and secured the $100,000 in grant money to fund the program and a large simulator for inmates to virtually get behind the wheel of a big rig.
Almeida said she already completed about three months of classroom learning and about two months “on the road” of the virtual simulator every Monday.
Bristol County Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Jonathan Darling said they’ve had the simulator since July of 2022. One woman has completed her time in jail and furthered her efforts to earn a CDL.
Almeida plans on getting out of jail in July and she said she is also leaving her options open.
“I’ve always pushed and pushed, and I’ve always told myself, ‘someone’s going to hire me and someone’s going to see I just made a mistake in life, and I want to grow and change my risky behaviors and bad behaviors that I was doing. Just because I’m incarcerated doesn’t make me a bad person and doesn’t define who I am as a person,'” she recalled.
The next step, Sheriff Heroux said, is to provide the staffing to get the inmates to the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) and take their CDL test. He said ideally, the inmates would have their license before they left jail so that they could get a job right away and have no time to fall back into potentially dangerous ways.
Another setback that would need to be overcome for some inmates is that many have lost their driver’s licenses due to their decisions and lifestyles that got them behind bars.
Darling explained that in order to apply for a CDL permit, the applicant has to have a driver’s license in good standing. The jail is working with the RMV to help inmates first get their driver’s licenses reinstated (for example, through driving safety class sessions via Zoom) so they can work on their CDL.
The sheriff believes it’s a win-win. Inmates are getting trained for a career after life behind bars, and Amaral’s Driving School, which has partnered up with the jail, eventually gets skilled drivers to fill any open positions.
“I would say people should not be concerned about hiring someone coming out of jail. I would be more concerned about the people coming out of jail and don’t have a job, so that’s the bigger concern,” Heroux said, pointing out that most of the crimes these inmates committed were not felonious.
When asked what types of crimes landed the inmates behind bars in this jail, Heroux said he did not yet know, as it was just his first week in office. However, he said he would be researching and holding a news conference when he did have those statistics.
The state’s latest data on recidivism rates can be found online.
When asked for more up-to-date data of recidivism rates at the Bristol County House of Correction, Darling said the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association is working on developing a system to measure and share that data, as is Sheriff Heroux specifically.