April 10, 2023

Inmates Graduate From New Healthcare Certificate Program

Inmates Graduate From New Healthcare Certificate Program

Source: Facebook/Mississippi Department of Corrections

Some inmates currently under the supervision of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) are getting a chance at a new future in healthcare. As local news station WLBT reports, 29 graduates of MDOC’s new healthcare certification program will soon be celebrating both their releases and their new certifications. 

The inmates—who were chosen based on certain qualifications that made them eligible to participate—were able to earn their certifications either as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), a Phlebotomist, or a Medical Biller and Coder. 

The program’s announcement has been met with mixed reactions, with some applauding the program and others expressing hesitation about upholding the professionalism of the industry by allowing those with criminal charges in their past to work in healthcare. 

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Facebook video of the ceremony:

New Opportunities in Healthcare For Inmates

Source: Facebook/Mississippi Department of Corrections

While the healthcare-certification program is a new one for the MDOC, the MDOC does also list several different programs aimed at helping inmates gain new skills and build futures. For instance, in 2022 they announced their Transitional Work Program, which matches inmates with paid positions outside of the facility. 

They also offer GED and even college credit courses to current inmates and have opportunities that include everything from music and art. In total, they have over two dozen re-entry programs. 

Mississippi is not the first state to offer a healthcare-certification program—Missouri also offers inmates in their correctional facility the opportunity to become Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA). Their program site explains that they offer training in different areas, including the CNA certification, and then offer employers the opportunity to recruit trained laborers after they have also completed official reentry programs. 

About Mississippi's Healthcare Certificate Program For Inmates

Source: Facebook/Mississippi Department of Corrections

According to WBLT, the healthcare certification program is a new one and may have been inspired in particular to both address ongoing shortages in healthcare and help offer female inmates in particular more choices. 

The outlet explained that MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain is “particularly concerned” about the facility’s “growing female” population–in fact, females go to prison at twice the rate of males, primarily for drug trafficking convictions. The current graduating class consisted solely of females, 26 who received their “White Coats” and certificates in coursework through the Mississippi School of Health Services and Careers. Three other participants received their certificates in advance Wednesday just before their releases. The ceremony was held in March and friends and family were even able to tune in virtually. 

Graduating Class's Certificates

According to the MDOC’s Facebook post about the program and graduation, the total graduating class consisted of:

  • 2 CNA graduates

  • 12 Phlebotomists

  • 12 Medical Billers and Coders 

The MDOC explained that the graduates’ next step will be to take the actual exams in their respective fields To help them get started, each former inmate will also receive $50 from MDOC Works, formerly known as MPIC. 

Deputy Commissioner's Statement

In a statement, Deputy Commissioner Bradley Lum said the programs are free to the inmates through a federal award and COVID recovery funds. 

“Without question, this is important to give inmates opportunities to complete upward mobility with job skills,” Lum explained. “This is crucial to providing our entire system a vantage point (for inmates) to say ‘Hey, I can leave incarceration and go out and get those types of jobs.’” 

“This is all a part of the continuum of care I think that we were creating at MDOC,” Lum also told WBLT. Three current inmates also shared their experiences going through the program. For instance, Brittany Jackson, who chose the billing and coding route, explained that she was attending nursing school before her incarceration. 

And despite her charges, she still wanted to get back into the healthcare field, but was unsure what her options would be. The program allowed her what she called a “great opportunity” to “pursue her dreams.” 

Courtney Barnett finished the phlebotomy course and will be released in July. “I am excited to have gotten this to further my education and I am glad I have this under my belt,” Barnett said. “I have always wanted to be in health care.”

Sheila Sherrod, one of the CNA graduates, was the highest scorer in her class and told MDOC that she was inspired to take a healthcare career path because her sister has worked as a CNA for over 25 years. 

“This means so much to me because I want to be in a career where I can help people who can’t help themselves. This is something that I really wanted and we had some great teachers,” Sherrod said. “This is a great class and I encourage other women to take it. I appreciate Commissioner (Burl) Cain for making this opportunity possible.”

Sherrod is on track to be released in July 2023 following 5 years of incarceration and plans to pursue her career in Ridgeland.

Reactions to the program

Source: Facebook/Mississippi Department of Corrections

While some have celebrated the program helping inmates, news of the program hasn’t gone over well with everyone. For instance, a post about the program was shared in a traveling nurse group on Facebook, where it received close to 930 comments and was shared 129 times. “Who’s gonna hire a felon in a hospital setting? Good luck to her tho,” said one commenter. 

“That’s heartwarming in all, but what is the likelihood of them getting hired?” added another. “I don’t like getting my hopes up like that.”

However, the post was shared with the title “MDOC Inmates Graduate Nursing Program,” so it does appear that some of the commenters mistakenly thought the inmates were graduating from a nursing program, not the CNA program the program actually offered. 

And even among the detractors, there were several supportive comments as well. “[It] doesn't make any sense, like people aren’t allowed to make mistakes and then turn their lives around,” said one commenter in a reply thread. “At least they tryna do something productive vs coming home and going right back to whatever got them locked up in the first place.”

“I actually love the idea,” added another supporter. “It sets them up to be successful after release. Mississippi, I applaud you for this, and more states should adopt this. 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾

And it does appear that CNAs not only can become certified with a felony conviction in their past, but can work as well, according to the Felon’s Guide. The guide explains that many states take CNA certifications from formerly incarcerated persons on a case-by-case basis and in many cases, completing and graduating from a certified program like a CNA program is one of the most protective actions against repeat offenses. 

Nurse.org reached out to the Mississippi Department of Corrections Office of Communications and received an automated response nonspecific to this program. 


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