DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WMBB) – This class of Walton County inmates is the fifth to graduate from a heavy equipment operations course.

The Walton County Sheriff’s Office started its vocational program back in 2018 as a way to help inmates from ending up back in jail.

This is the first class of inmates to graduate “ADEPT” (Adaptable Equipment Proficiency Testing) certified, not just in Walton County, but nationwide, thanks to a partnership with Heavy Equipment Colleges of America.

“It gives them a step ahead of a normal person than just on the street who walks up and says ‘Hey I can run equipment’ but doesn’t have the proof,” Walton County Jail Vocational Instructor Mark Simmons said. They actually have a card that states that they went through a college class and are certified on heavy equipment.”

The course focuses on learning to operate five pieces of heavy equipment with a strong emphasis on safety.

Inmates who have completed the program have been offered jobs at places like Gum Creek Farms and the city of Crestview.

“Walton County actually provides this program for guys like us who want to go out and be something and get away from the bad side and always just look for the good in them and I think it will do us good,” inmate Johnny Pruett said.

“The reality of it is, it’s expensive to keep people in jail and it behooves us all to try and impact people’s lives and try to break a cycle of incarceration,” Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson said. “These men here today are going to support families, they can go to work now. That makes a big difference and that goes towards a very high return on investment. Changing lives.”

The Walton County Sheriff’s Office is also set to start a CDL certification program for qualifying inmates in 2022.