The Rutherford County Correctional Work Center (RCCWC) is pleased to announce its newest program geared toward preparing inmates for release and reentry into the community.
Mechatronics is a very extensive program that utilizes instructional software and special equipment to train inmates and certify them as Certified Production Technicians (CPT). Through the program, inmates study curriculum that uses competency-based instructional design and teaches Manufacturing Skill Standards Council’s (MSSC) nationally recognized standards. Inmates can earn certificates that cover four major modules including safety, quality assurance, mechanical, and manufacturing processes.
“RCCWC strives to be a leader in the field of corrections,” said RCCWC Superintendent Bill Cope. “While we continue to use tried and true correctional practices, we also value innovative methods that lead the charge in sending inmates housed at our facility back into the community better than they came in. We do that by providing programming that will give them the skills and tools to use to make better choices and be more productive citizens in our community.”
Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron, very instrumental in finding a funding source for the Mechatronics program, commented, “This is the first program of it’s kind inside the correctional system in Tennessee if not in the country. My hope is that we can end the cycle of recidivism in our community while saving lives and taxpayers’ dollars. By providing our inmates with specialized skill sets and certifications in a field that is in high demand, we are putting them in the position to find good paying jobs upon completion of serving their time.”
Cope says that along with the facility’s computer based instructional software, hands on instruction is also offered utilizing four “Skill Boss Manufacturing” assessment systems. This system features an electric motor, variable frequency drive, human-machine interface, pneumatic pick-and-place module, and provides inmates with the hands-on skills needed in today’s manufacturing production areas including assembly and machine operation. Inmates can complete the skills and obtain certifications that the companies seek to immediately go into manufacturing jobs that can lead to higher paying jobs.
Mayor Bill Ketron looked for a funding source for the program for several years, as equipment costs and the instructor’s salary was well over $100,000. He worked to secure a grant to offset the equipment costs and provide the initial payment for an instructor. Once the grant was awarded and the equipment was ordered, Rutherford County posted an instructor position. Tim Pepka was hired to be the instructor. Pepka has an extensive background in manufacturing and industrial mechanical engineering and is currently employed with the General Motors plant in Spring Hill, TN. Once selected, he went through the process of becoming a Certified Production Technician (CPT) so he could instruct the inmates and award certifications.
“The level of enthusiasm has been quite surprising,” said Pepka. “The students are actively engaged in all of the lessons and don’t hesitate to help one another out.” He goes on to say, “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity at trying to give the inmates another chance to get back on their feet. I sincerely hope they take full advantage of everything the program has to offer.”
Administrative Sergeant and Compliance Manager Sergeant Chad Duggin was tasked with launching the program as well as its oversight. Sgt. Duggin says, “We play a very important role in our community. At the Rutherford County Correctional Work Center, we do not simply house inmates from court date to release date, send them home, and hope for the best. We provide intense beneficial programming and structure and try to send the inmates out better than they were when they came in with tools that can help them provide for themselves and their families…benefit the community and hopefully keep them from repeating past mistakes.”
The first class of eight inmates began May 4, 2021. To date, they have completed the first module (Safety) and will test in the upcoming weeks for certification. Testing is proctored by the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT). RCCWC is working with TCAT to certify the inmates and possibly help with locating companies within Rutherford County looking to employ people with these types of certified skills.