Getting a second chance

Published 12:09 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2018

In Southside Virginia, a diversion program for young offenders is offering a second chance at a successful life without incarceration.

Alfonzo Seward, coordinator of the Diversion Program at Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC), recently announced initial successes from its first class. Designed to provide alternative sentencing, the first class began in October 2016. SVCC worked in partnership with local Commonwealth Attorneys offices in Brunswick, Greensville, Mecklenburg and Lunenburg counties.

Youth offenders who enter the program face incarceration in either jail or prison due to a crime they previously committed, and to which they have subsequently pleaded guilty. The program serves as an alternative to incarceration and/ or a felony conviction, and it includes a requirement of participation in group and/or individual community service projects. Additionally, the program requires participants to be drug free, which are verified through drug screenings, and of good behavior.

While serving as an adviser to SVCC’s Administration of Justice Program, Lezlie Green, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Brunswick County, presented the idea to Seward, who heads the Administration of Justice program at the college.

Through their years in law enforcement, Green and Seward recognized an unmet need for alternative sentencing programs in Southside Virginia. They joined forces with Monica McMillan, caseworker with Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act Out of School Youth Program (WIOA) and Linda Macklin, a caseworker for Southside Community Corrections. They worked together to develop a program that was approved by the college’s administration, and accepted as a sentencing alternative.

The program is designed to follow a paramilitary format during the initial semester. The cohort of offenders meets three nights a week in two different courses. These courses are designed to improve life skills, academic skills and overall behavior. The concept is to provide individuals who fit the criteria with an opportunity to gain the necessary skills to attain employment and become successful citizens.

Seward recently recognized two success stories: Jamarcus Reid and Ja’ Kei Woods, both members of the initial group. Although they were in the same cohort, their challenges were different due to differing educational backgrounds. Both men met the criteria of being drug-free during the program

Reid completed the initial cohort semester, and transitioned into college courses where he successfully completed his welding certification through SVCC’s program. Reid also participated in 24 hours of community service projects while in the program. He participated in projects benefiting SVCC, Alberta Fire Department and the Town of Lawrenceville.

During the course of the program, and in addition to the welding certificate Reid completed a work experience and earned a Career Readiness Certificate. Reid recently secured a full-time job in the welding industry.

In February Woods was awarded his GED certificate. For a period of almost a year and a half he attended GED classes during the day and diversion courses at night. He successfully completed the “Dream It Do It Welding Academy” and was awarded a $100 gift card for his presentation. Other accomplishments for Woods throughout the program included successfully completing two work experiences, earning a National Career Readiness Certificate, and participating in 32 hours of community service projects. He plans to remain at SVCC to earn his welding certificate.

The program operates through grant-funded assistance and donations to the SVCC Foundation, Inc. For more information or to make a contribution, call (434) 949-1051.