COVINGTON — According to the United States Department of Justice, more than half a million inmates are released from prison each year — and the transition back into society doesn’t always go smoothly. Data shows that nearly two-thirds of individual are put back in the system in just three years.

Fortunately, the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, in collaboration with the Northeast Regional Commission, Action Inc. and Georgia Piedmont Technical College, is aiding with that transition with the Newton HIRE (Helping Inmates Regain Entry) program.

HIRE is a six-week program that will help “GPTC strengthen the workforce pipeline for its industry partners in Newton County and to provide a re-entry point for local inmates currently incarcerated at the Newton County Jail.”

Inmates receive free manufacturing training at GPTC from three local companies: Old Castle, Clarion Metals and Beaver Manufacturing.

Training includes courses in welding, forklift operations, technology skills, interview and lifestyle skills, OSHA 10, CPR and First Aid training.

“This is a passion of mine and it is shared with the community and everyone who works here,” said Sheriff Ezell Brown. “This (program) is a unified front that represents Newton County…I have worked in law enforcement for many years and I know that we have needed programs in place that will redirect them as they re-enter our community.”

Sheriff Brown, as well as Dr. Irvin Clark, GPTC director of Economic Development, Jim Dougherty, Action Inc. career coach and Dr. Talvarez Holston, GPTC President, honored the first graduates of the program Friday afternoon.

“You are doing things that are positive not only for you, but for your family,” said Clark. “And I want you to pay it forward, we have given this to you, but we also want you to give it to someone else.”

“This is not a destination, this is just a milestone,” said Dougherty. “The journey continues.”

“Orientation is all about the direction that we go, where even by design humans are made to move forward because it is actually very difficult to look back,” said Holston. “So orient yourself towards education and learning because no one can take that from you. With those who have created, funded and taught you in this program, we are so proud of you...What you have achieved speaks to your character, sets an example for many others and keeps you moving forward.”

Former inmates Michael Franklin, Robert Dyche, Richard Matthews II and Cory Stroud completed the HIRE program. At the ceremony each graduate was given time to express their gratitude towards program facilitators.

“This is really a wonderful thing for inmates here, and I appreciate Georgia Piedmont College and everybody that was involved,” said Dyche. “Everybody who goes through this program will be successful.”

Concluding the program, each graduate will complete a three-week internship with a local manufacturer and will more than likely receive a job offer directly after.

“Having hands-on experience in this industry is very valuable,” said Clark.

To learn more about GPTC’s manufacturing programs, visit

Covington native and proud Valdosta State alumna, Hunter has previously worked with The Covington News and Valdosta Daily Times. She started working for Rockdale/Newton Citizen in June 2018.

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