Some called them second-class citizens. Priority gave them a second chance.
Jerry Baker never expected a second chance. At 53, Baker was once again locked up in Norfolk City Jail with little hope of making an honest living when he got out. “When you return to society the opportunities are limited,” he says. “A second chance like this is unthinkable.” This is a new partnership between Priority Automotive, the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office and Tidewater Community College, and a new program that is training repeat offenders in the Norfolk City Jail as auto mechanics. After completing the 2-year TCC program, Baker and 14 other inmates will earn a full-time job at one of Priority’s 14 dealerships upon their release. “This program is a game changer. It transitioned me into a different person before I even enter into society,” Baker said. “So now I’m working on this new person and feeling good about this new person and and want to continue with this new person. I want to show my family and my kids that at any age you can learn, you can change. Anything is possible.”
Jail recidivism is a problem that plagues communities from coast to coast. With few opportunities to make an honest living, non-violent offenders like Jerry Baker often resort to old habits when they’re released. And wind up right back in jail. The new Priority inmate automotive training program is designed to put an end to the social and financial costs that stem from jail recidivism. Consider: It costs Norfolk taxpayers an average of $26,000 just to house a single offender for one year. “What we know is over 96% of our offenders are coming back into our community,” Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron said. “We also know former offenders are less likely to return to jail if they have gainful employment at the time of their release. What Priority is doing here is nothing short of life changing for these inmates.”
How Priority Helps
Priority Automotive spent more than $1.7 million to build a state-of-the-art automotive training facility in Chesapeake and funds the entire cost of the 2-year certified program through Tidewater Community College. Two years in the making, the training center includes 12 modern repair bays, where the employees work side-by-side with Priority mechanics and TCC instructors to diagnose problems and repair vehicles according to strict manufacturer standards. Trainees are promised full-time jobs at Priority when they are released, with the opportunity to continue their education, earn new certifications and even earn an associate’s degree from TCC.