There aren’t many positive things coming out of the Prince George’s Department of Corrections (DOC). But its barber school, which is helping to reduce recidivism, is proving to be an exception.

“We don’t blow our own horn enough,” said Mary Lou McDonough, director of DOC. “This is one of those programs where you can count on the results.”

The program is directed by Phil Mazza, former president of the National Association of Barber Boards of America (NABBA). Mazza, in charge since the program’s inception in 1993, has seen it grow into DOC’s most successful vocational program.

Mazza says it’s the most successful program because it’s the only one that has 100 percent job placement. The program partners with 53 shops in Prince George’s and Charles counties to provide homes for all of its graduates. In addition to that, it has 15 percent recidivism rate, which is much lower than the DOC’s overall inmate return rate of 66 percent.

The 1,200 hour program is set up in two areas, classroom study and practicum. Students normally only complete 850 of the needed hours while incarcerated. The rest is done under the watchful eye of a master barber outside of the facility.

Students in the program say they can see how the class is working already. Robert Davis, incarcerated on handgun possession, says you can see how different the behavior is of the men in the class versus that of the other inmates.

“There’s definitely a difference,” he said. “This class gives us something to work for. When you have something to do, you tend not to want to get in trouble.”

Davis’ words prove prophetic in the clinical area. The atmosphere in which the barbers train is different from the rest of the facility. Soft music plays while the barbers practice, making the facility a lot less rowdy than your typical barbershop. That was done by design to keep the students in the program on good behavior, Mazza said. In 18 years Mazza, not a corrections officer by background, says he’s never had any security breaches.

Stephan Simmons, chief of program services at the facility, said inmates in the program are different outside of the clinical area too. He says its like “night and day” once the inmates leave training, but he still marvels at the program’s success. His only issue is why the young men have to be incarcerated to take advantage of such a program.

“Why do these young men have to be incarcerated to receive something like this?” he asked. “Why not open it up in high schools? We know everyone isn’t going to college so why not give them something they can do to keep them out of here?”

To be enrolled into the program, inmates have to be incarcerated for at least six months, to have enough time to complete the 1,200 hour course. Inmates have to request placement in the program, but they may not have any open cases or prior charges that are of violent nature. Those who may have a violent charge may ask for special consideration, but there is no guarantee that it will be successful.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO