Virginia Auto Dealer, Sheriff, Community College Team Up To Train Jail Inmates As Auto Technicians

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A Virginia automotive dealer is joining with a local sheriff and community college to train non-violent offenders in the Norfolk City Jail as automotive technicians.

Dennis Ellmer, president of Priority Automotive, believes the new Priority Technical Training Center can help put a stop to the revolving door at the Norfolk City Jail while helping his 21 auto dealerships in Virginia and North Carolina answer a nationwide shortage of auto technicians.

"This may seem like an unlikely partnership, but it just makes perfect sense," said Priority Automotive President Dennis Ellmer, who was joined by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam during a formal dedication ceremony on Thursday, September 27. "Teaching non-violent offenders to make a good honest living is good for our communities, good for our law enforcement agencies, and good for Priority Automotive."

Built and funded entirely by Priority Automotive, the new training center features 12 repair bays, and will train 15 non-violent offenders for careers in automotive repair through a 2-year certified program offered by Tidewater Community College.

Ellmer said he got the idea during a trip to Fiji, where he met a tour guide who earned a tourism degree while incarcerated in a local jail.

Priority is paying 100% of the trainees' tuition, and will offer each trainee a full-time job with benefits once they finish the two-year program.

Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron said it costs Norfolk taxpayers an average of $26,000 to house a single offender for one year.

"What we know is over 96% of our offenders are coming back to our community," 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. By funding the cost to build the center and pay the trainees' tuition, what Priority is doing here is nothing short of life changing for these inmates and great for the community."

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