Two detainees graduate from Cobb Sheriff Office’s new incarcerated fathers program

Detainees get graduation certificatesCaleb Leon (in orange jumpsuit to the right) and Joel Medina (in orange jumpsuit in the center) (photo by Arielle Robinson)

By Arielle Robinson

Thursday morning, two detainees at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center graduated from a program administered locally by the sheriff’s department and the Urban League of Greater Atlanta aimed at reducing recidivism rates.

The incarcerated fathers program is called the Second Chance Act: Strengthening Relationships Between Young Fathers and Their Children.

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It is for incarcerated fathers aged 18 through 25 and helps them gain parenting and life skills for when they are released. The initiative began in June.

Caleb Leon, 22, and Joel Medina, 26, received completion certifications from the sheriff’s office. Both also completed the “active parenting plus” programs.

Medina, originally from Pennsylvania, described the program as a “godsend” and said it allowed him to reassess his life and see what opportunities are available for him in the outside world.

“There’s more options than what I’m used to,” Medina said.

When he is released, Medina said he would like to go into computers or vocational trading.

Leon, from Georgia, said that he sees HVAC work in his future. His goal is to start his own business.

Leon said that from the program, he learned to be more compassionate when disciplining his children.

The young incarcerated father also wants his daughter to know “she is really pretty, really smart and she is growing really fast.”

Leon said he encourages other young incarcerated fathers to join the program. He said that because they are so young, they may not understand everything about caring for children and so the program teaches them valuable skills about being not just a father, but a good one.

When Cobb County Sheriff Craig Owens addressed the crowd, he said the program is part and parcel of his campaign promise to improve the community.

“When I ran for office, I made a commitment that I would like every inmate to walk out of this facility better than when they came in,” Owens said. “I think this program is going to allow us to keep that commitment to our community.”

Owens also said that many who are incarcerated in the county jail have dealt with trauma and did not grow up in two-parent households.

“We’re teaching these young men how to handle conflict, how to deal with parenting skills,” the sheriff said. “…This is a way to give back to our community.”

Urban League of Greater Atlanta President and CEO Nancy Flake Johnson said that she and her Urban League team were grateful for the opportunity to work with the sheriff’s office to advance the program.

Johnson said that there are barriers that incarcerated people and their families face and so it is crucial to support their growth.

“It is heartening to see our young men tap into their talents and their purpose,” Johnson said.

“These young men will be heading — we hope — on to technical college and to sustainable employment, careers that will produce liveable wages and beyond,” Johnson said.

This new program is funded through the Department of Justice. Johnson said that Families First, a nonprofit that helps the most vulnerable in US society, has also partnered with the Urban League and sheriff’s department to teach parenting skills to the incarcerated fathers.

Major Larry White said that program members have been carefully vetted to ensure they were a good fit.

White said this program lasts for four weeks with three days of work in a classroom. One day is dedicated to parenting while the other two are focused on preparing for a future career.

“[Program members] were able to matriculate through that particular area, pick courses of study, areas that they want to pursue as a career, make out an exit plan and then put steps in place to see that plan to fruition,” White said. “So I’m excited about where their future is going.”

Thursday’s class was the first to graduate from the program.

Five more detainees have been chosen for the next classes and upcoming graduation ceremony.

Enrolling in this program does not impact the length of the time detainees serve.

“What we are celebrating today represents a new approach to community collaboration and social justice and justice reform,” Johnson said. “We know that through collaboration and innovative approaches, we can change the trajectory of the lives of our returning citizens. Thank you again for this opportunity and we look forward to the next graduating class for our partnership.”

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