Fifty new officers graduated from training in Jenkins County Thursday and many of them are just thankful to have jobs. (WRDW-TV / Feb. 2, 2012)
News 12 First at Five / Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012
MILLEN, Ga. -- Jobs are scarce in Jenkins County, Ga., but thanks to a new prison set to open next month, many people in the area are getting a fresh start.
Fifty new officers graduated from training Thursday and many of them are just thankful to have jobs.
"I'm thankful, so thankful for this job and our community here in Jenkins County is so proud to have C.C.A. here," said Officer Tonia Davis of Millen.
Many of these new officers are just thrilled to be going back to work.
"I was laid off two years ago and when I got the opportunity, I've never done work like this, but I told them I'd give them 110 percent," Davis said.
Officer Sheena Oliver of nearby Sylvania had been out of work for six months.
"I'm just grateful for the opportunity that's been given to me," she said.
The prison is hiring 200 positions. So far 4,000 have applied.
"It says there's a lot of folks unemployed out there that are still looking for work," said Warden Ralph Kemp. "A lot of good people have applied and it's just unfortunate that we don't have more positions than we do."
Jenkins County has the third highest unemployment rate in Georgia. In December, 17 percent of residents were without jobs. It's nearly double the state average of 9.4 percent.
"A lot of people are out of work. We need more businesses here. We need more jobs for our people," Davis said.
But there is hope. The prison has plans to expand in the future and could be an economic driver many in the town have been looking for.
"Since the first day that we started we've had a tremendous amount of support from the community," explained Officer David Pierce from Statesboro.
The community is behind them, and so is the room packed full of family, friends and Jenkins County leaders.
"Thanks you God ... we made it!" Davis exclaimed.
The speakers from the Department of Corrections said the crowd was one of their biggest ever for an officer graduation. The new officers go to work on Monday.
With prisons all over the state overcrowding, the prison has a few acres ready for when it is time to grow in the years to come.
News 12 got one of the first tours of the new Jenkins Correctional Center, which is set to open next month. There will be room for more than 1,100 inmates. Corrections Corporations of America is the company behind the new facility.
They own, or operate, five facilities in Georgia, opening the first two locations back in 1998. They have prisons in 19 states and offer rehabilitation and educational programs to help inmates transition back into civilian life.
"It will be minimum and medium security Georgia male inmates, there will be a number if sex offenders, of course, that's normal that's the way it is across the state. It will be a group of inmates that for the most part aren't problematic," Kemp said.
The prison will have a ribbon cutting March 7 and start bringing in about 50 inmates at a time March 13.