South Georgia Local News

Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office Seeing Great Success with Jail Vocational Programs

Sheriff Jeffrey Brewer has only been Emanuel County’s top law enforcement officer since January 2021, but his office has already instituted – and seen the success – of a few programs that were previously unprecedented in Emanuel County.  

Brewer worked as Trooper with the Georgia State Patrol for 32 years, ascending from a radio operator when he started to the rank of Lieutenant at the time of his retirement. ‘Retirement,’ however, didn’t last long and Brewer began working with the Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office under then-Sheriff Tyson Stephens in both the Court Services division and as the Jail Administrator.

Working in the jail was an eye opening experience for Brewer who spent most of his career in law enforcement interacting with individuals in a completely different capacity. The relatively small jail that housed approximately sixty inmates had a limited staff, so much of what Brewer learned, he learned by experience. He said the only advice he was given was that he had to ‘learn everything on his own.’ And so he did. 

During the almost four years he worked in the jail, Brewer had the opportunity to interact with offenders on a personal level. “They’re not going to tell you what they did or didn’t do,” Brewer said laughing. “But they’ll share with you about what led them to where they are and what they’d rather be doing, things like that. Like the rest of us, they just appreciate someone listening.”

Emanuel County’s Vocational Programs 

After Brewer’s victory in 2020, he and his administration hit the ground running on a variety of things he promised on the campaign trail. Ironically, vocational programs and general education in the jail were not listed among those campaign promises. 

Sheriff Jeffrey Brewer and Chief Deputy Nick Robertson sat down with TheGeorgiaVirtue earlier this month to discuss the implementation of both inside the Emanuel County jail. 

Brewer says the idea came to fruition after an Emanuel County offender was housed in Washington County’s jail so he could complete the GED program as a condition of his sentence. Upon completion, Sheriff Joel Cochran placed a picture of the man in the newspaper with his GED proudly displayed. Brewer said he appreciated how proud the individual was of his accomplishment, prompting him to ponder how ECSO could implement a similar program.

While a secure jail and with strict operational procedures is priority #1, both Brewer and Robertson shared their approach on county detention centers. “Jail is the last resort. Yes, sometimes we have to lock somebody up, but that isn’t the end game,” Robertson said. “Helping them get out and stay out is part of it, too.”

Brewer told TGV that he reached out to Marion Shaw, a former jail administrator for the Sheriff’s Office and also a former school system superintendent, about launching a program in Emanuel County. They connected with Southeastern Technical College where Shaw’s brother, Ronnie Shaw, works as an instructor. STC offered to provide the formal GED program, the books, and an instructor on site. Pineland Telephone then provided the facility with an independent connection for the computers used for pre-testing and post-testing. Now, the GED program is taught on-site in the jail’s multipurpose room as an instructor-led classroom style learning program. To date, eighteen offenders have graduated. 

The program experienced such great success early on that ECSO worked with Southeastern Tech to offer the Forklift Operator Certificate as well. The week-long program immediately drew the interest of several participants and to date, fourteen individuals have obtained the certificate. 

Photo: Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page
(Pictured left to right: Instructor Billy Shaw, Edward Jenkins, Dashown Hawkins, David Hood, Jr, Venchia Brown, Lavana McCoy and ECSO Coordinator Marion Shaw.)

In addition to the certificate or diploma, Brewer says the office makes sure to share the accomplishments on the ECSO social media accounts – with permission, of course. The small tokens of recognition have been well-received by the community and provide additional opportunities for positive reinforcement to those with the accomplishments.

Though the Emanuel County Jail houses around 100 inmates at any given time, not everyone is eligible to participate. Jail staff work with STC to evaluate inmates based on their pending charges, time of incarceration, and behavior behind bars to determine if they’re a good fit. Their willingness is imperative, too. The majority of the participants are pre-conviction offenders, so they cannot be compelled to do anything they’re not interested in doing. Still, neither program has been short on attraction, which Brewer credits to the STC and ECSO partnership along with the Shaw brothers and the Jail Administrator, Captain West Bedgood. 

“A lot of the participants didn’t have the encouraging people in their lives telling them to go on and complete a program or get training in something.” Brewer said. “When they see someone is encouraging them and giving them an opportunity because they can do if it they put in the work, it’s giving them a level of confidence never had before. And we’re seeing that with these programs.”

Additional Expansion

Sheriff Brewer and Chief Deputy Nick Robertson both expressed a hope and a willingness to expand the types of programs offered to those in their facilities. Expansion, however, is somewhat limited by location and by time. The programs must be taught on site, as the controlled environment limits contraband issues and the resources which would be needed for transporting multiple individuals outside the facility. The jail is also constrained to what equipment can be brought to the facility for on site for training, one of the reasons the forklift training was a good fit.

Since the programs are most often offered to individuals whose cases have yet to be adjudicated, the duration of their stay is not certain. The wide range of incarceration periods make it difficult to offer programs that are several months or years long, at least at this time.

For now, Brewer, Robertson, and the jail staff are focused on increasing awareness for the opportunities they do have available.

“90-95% of the people in our jail are not bad people, they just made a bad decision,” Brewer said. “We aren’t doing this to be boastful or for recognition for us – it’s for them. And to offer them a tool to make a different choice in the future.”

Vocational Programs in Rural Jails

Vocational opportunities in jails, while gaining popularity, are still relatively new, especially in rural southeast Georgia.

Whether offered in jail or in prison and irrespective of pre-conviction or post-conviction status, statistics show across the board that inmates who receive general education and vocational training are less likely to return after release and significantly more likely to find employment than their peers who do not receive such opportunities. 

According to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics which evaluated more than 404,000 offenders in thirty states, 67.8% of offenders are arrested again within three years of their release. That number climbs to a whopping 76.6% by the five year mark. But the same study shows a 43% reduction in recidivism rates for the offenders who participate in education and training programs because of the impact it has on reentry.

It’s also proven to be cost-effective. One study showed that for every $1 invested in incarceration-based education, taxpayers saved $4-$5 in reincarceration costs post-release. Other studies have tied in a crime reduction comparison between education and simple incarceration, for which the former of the two is nearly twice as successful.  

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of The Georgia Virtue. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta, a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast,' and she has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers." Sign up for her weekly newsletter:

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