Road to redemption: Federal Bureau of Prisons inmates use CDL program to drive their success.

Author:Garrett, Judith Simon
Position:Reentry - Commercial driver's license

According to a maxim often used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP), "Reentry begins on the first day of incarceration." Ensuring inmates have opportunities and tools to prepare for productive, crime-free living is a key component of FBOP's mission since the agency's creation in 1930. Each of FBOP's 122 federal prisons offers many reentry programs that support individuals and help prepare them for a successful reentry back to the community. FBOP offers education programs, substance abuse treatment, job skills training and more. One example of a reentry program that provides marketable job skills to inmates is the commercial driver's license (CDL) program at the Federal Correctional Complex in Petersburg, Virginia (FCC Petersburg). There, inmates can complete the requirements to obtain a Class A or B driver's license, and those who successfully complete the program receive a Virginia CDL (all states honor reciprocity for the licenses).

"Having the opportunity to learn a trade like driving a tractor trailer gave me hope," said inmate David Blackmon. "I came to prison at 45. I'm leaving ... at 60 years old. At least I can give myself a chance. That's a good feeling."

How the program works

Since its inception in March 2011, inmates in the six-to-nine-month, self-paced program receive instruction on a CDL simulator, pre-trip inspections, air brake testing and behind-the-wheel driving. To be eligible for participation in the program, inmates must be non-violent and minimum-security level with 18 months of clear conduct. Additionally, they must already have a high school diploma or GED.

Staff members at FCC Petersburg are instrumental to the success of the program. "Mrs. McGrath [the reentry affairs coordinator who oversees the program] encouraged not just me, but everyone that was involved in the program," said inmate Robert Davis. "She never gave up on any of us. She kept positive energy at all times. I had failed my driver test my first time going out. Mrs. McGrath pulled me to the side and told me she would bring me back the next day; however, the deal was that I had to pass. That next day, I passed my driver test along with my learner's CDL permit test." Individuals who attempt the examination and fail three times are required to complete their training at a separate driving school. They also are financially responsible for all costs associated with the program.

Inmates complete all their CDL training on the grounds of FCC Petersburg. In August 2015, the institution's facilities department replicated the CDL examination course to the exact specifications of the Commonwealth of Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). "(I) felt it important to participate in the CDL program for a number of reasons," said inmate...

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