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Mississippi's cosmetology program: turning followers into leaders.

The philosophy of the Mississippi Department of Corrections is that each inmate can achieve goals while incarcerated and, upon release, will be a contributing member of society. "We want to show them they have choices ... we are trying to unlock the possibilities in every inmate," Corrections Commissioner Christopher B. Epps said.

Offenders who follow institutional rules and who apply themselves have a variety of opportunities while incarcerated to improve their chances of success upon release. The Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) Cosmetology Program is a prime example of positive lifestyle choices that are benefiting the offenders and society.

CMCF was established in 1986 and constructed on 171 acres in Rankin County. The facility includes 13 housing units with a capacity of 3,293 beds for male and female inmates. Of the three state prisons, CMCF is the only facility to house female state inmates. It houses females classified to all custody levels, including death row and minimum, medium and maximum security. There are approximately 545 employees and 3,252 inmates at CMCF, about 1,405 of which are female inmates.

With women making up an increasing proportion of U.S. inmates--reaching 12.7 percent of the population in 2005, compared with 10.2 percent in 1995, (1) as well as accounting for nearly one in four arrests--incarceration programs that are tailored for women are becoming increasingly imperative. Much of the increase in incarceration can be attributed to mandatory minimums and specific sentencing guidelines for drug offenses.


As the trend of rising incarceration for women shows no sign of dwindling, it is important to establish more programs for female inmates. Corrections professionals understand that providing opportunities for inmates to better themselves has a direct correlation to lowering the recidivism rate. Marketable skills and a sense of accomplishment can help many offenders improve their once hollow self-esteem.

Certainly, education programs can increase the employability of offenders and improve their chances of securing employment in the community upon their release from prison. Educational programs in correctional settings have proved to have positive societal implications such as: fewer disciplinary problems, a reduction in criminal behavior, better post-release employment prospects, and even an end to family cycles of violence and crime dependency. Having a marketable skill upon release from prison clearly helps to prevent depression and stress, and it helps former inmates avoid going back to the old habits that initially resulted in their incarceration.


Real-World Training

The CMCF Cosmetology Program is a 1,500-hour course that takes about 18 months to complete. It involves the art and science of all phases of cosmetology. Cosmetology skills include the ability to style hair appropriate for the client, create nail art, apply makeup and effectively give advice to the client. The science of cosmetology teaches the chemical makeup of products and the effect they have on hair. A cosmetology student must learn to use chemicals such as perm solutions, hair color, bleach and hair relaxers, and must learn how to shape and style hair to complement the client's features.

Students are required to pass the Mississippi state examination to receive a license to practice cosmetology and to graduate the program. The average score for the inmate population on the state exam is 96 out of 100. Since its inception in February 1992, the CMCF Cosmetology Program has graduated 111 students.

The cosmetology field is more demanding than ever. Styles and products are changing constantly and so are many of the methods used in today's salons. To be successful in cosmetology, people must possess a good general knowledge of the industry as well as have actual clinical experience. The program provides these inmates with opportunities to express their creativity and individuality. It gives them knowledge and skills to improve their abilities to become stable citizens and contributors to the community upon release.

The Mississippi Board of Cosmetology oversees 42 licensed cosmetology schools, 4,109 licensed salons and 20,431 licensed practitioners. Last year, the CMCF Cosmetology Program was awarded first place in the practical exam, second place in the composite score and fourth place in the state and national cosmetology written exam administered by the board. The class also placed second overall for 2005 among all state cosmetology programs, both private and public, on overall aspects of the state board exam. They lost the first place position by only one point.

Rachel Thornton, who initiated the cosmetology program at CMCF, is like a proud mom. Since the program's inception, she has witnessed young women completely turn their lives around. The program has proved that with adequate support, nurturing, compassion, elevated expectations and commitment, people of diverse backgrounds can accomplish the goals they establish for themselves. Success for Thornton is seeing the hard work paying off for her students. They are instilled with a work ethic that many may not have experienced prior to going to prison.

Not surprisingly, in May 2006, Thornton received the Mississippi DOC Employee of the Year Award. Her peers decided she was worthy of the honor because they, too, recognize the significance of what she does every day. Staff understand the impact Thornton has on inmates and how the public benefits by her diligence in the teaching profession. A program such as the CMCF Cosmetology Program, with all its awards and accolades, is nothing without the inherent concern for the individual student. The scores certainly indicate how committed Thornton is to her students.

A Thriving Field

Cosmetologists also are referred to as beauticians, hairstylists, hairdressers and beauty operators. Most of their work centers on hair care, cutting, styling and chemical services. They also provide manicuring services, skin care, makeup analysis and application. All states require that cosmetologists be licensed. Cosmetologists may be paid salaries or receive commissions. Generally, they all receive tips and commissions on products sold. The rainmakers, those who bring in new business, also may receive bonuses.

Income earned by cosmetologists depend on many factors such as the size and location of the salon, hours worked, tipping practices, competition from other salons and the initiative of the cosmetologist. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, median annual earnings in 2000 for salaried hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists was $17,660, including tips and commission. The middle 50 percent earned between $14,000 and $23,910. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $12,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $33,220. Median annual earnings were $17,620 in beauty shops and $17,570 in department stores. Additionally, a national survey conducted for the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences, (2) concluded that based upon a typical 50 percent commission factor, the average 2002 income for salon professionals was $18.08 per hour, while salon owners averaged $24.36 per hour. The corresponding full-time salaries, including tips, were $48,720 for salon owners and $36,360 for all nonowner salon professionals.

Overall employment of barbers, cosmetologists and other personal appearance workers is projected to increase 9 percent to 17 percent for all occupations through 2014 because of an increasing population, rising incomes and growing demand for personal appearance services. In addition to those arising from job growth, numerous job openings will come about from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations, retire or leave the labor force for other reasons. (3)

Success in and out of Prison

Through the cosmetology program, inmates participate in other events held at the prison such as fashion shows presented by the vocational department. Using designs assembled by CMCF inmates, female inmates model clothing they produced in the industrial sewing class. With the assistance of the cosmetology students, these inmates are treated like true models as they get their hair and makeup done before displaying their designs for other inmates and staff.


The cosmetology school provides a combination of stimulating classroom presentations and meaningful, practical exercises designed to challenge the student to fully develop her personality and potential. Throughout the training program, the school stresses motivation, a dedicated work ethic and the cultivation of a strong professional attitude. These attributes are essential within the cosmetology field and for general success in the world upon release for prison. This program is positioned to create a realistic work environment for the inmates in which a positive work ethic is developed.

Currently, 20 students are enrolled in the course and about 25 inmates are patiently waiting to embark on the popular prison program. An inmate must meet several eligibility requirements for enrollment, some of which are: a high school diploma or a GED, a minimum score of 9.0 on the Test of Adult Basic Education and a minimum of 18 months left in her sentence.

In Mississippi, the fee for the State Board of Cosmetology licensing exam is $85 and the DOC inmate welfare fund absorbs the cost. Of course, the board may refuse licensure to an applicant who has been convicted of a felony, but with scores like these, the board has not refused any applicants since the prison-based educational program began. To date, the recidivism rate for those inmates who completed the cosmetology program at CMCF is 3 percent, compared with a 32 percent overall recidivism rate of offenders in Mississippi.

Once an inmate at CMCF completes the cosmetology program and passes the state exam, she knows she has endless opportunities upon release from prison. She also knows she has been trained at one of the highest-ranking programs in the state of Mississippi.

Once released from prison, the licensed cosmetologist may take her talents to the salons in the casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast or travel to other states that have reciprocity with Mississippi, including Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia. No doubt, these cosmetologists can pursue a career of boundless prospects. From the courtroom to prison to the free world again, these women deserve credit for seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

There are challenges, to be sure. The women might need time off to meet with their field officers, may have trouble locating sitters for their children, could have transportation problems or even could have difficulty finding jobs because of their crimes. Sadly, there is also the risk these workers will re-offend and return to prison. However, these women are usually motivated and want to be successful. Good, bad or indifferent, an employer will know much more about the background and skills these women bring to the job than someone who simply walked in to apply for a job. If the explosion of beauty and hair salons is any indication, beauty is a thriving business these days. The trend indicates that the cosmetology field is wide open.

This program reminds inmates of the dreams they once had and that they do not need to give up on their dreams. The ability to be independent and confident is a gift most appreciated when it has been garnered through hard work and discipline. The graduates of the CMCF Cosmetology Program celebrate their autonomy and self-determination by acquiring something intangible: confidence. Truth be told, confidence and self-reliance are simple factors that can mean the difference between a leader and a follower. At the Mississippi DOC, staff are turning followers into leaders--one eager student at a time.


(1) Beck, A.J. and P.M Harrison. 2006. Prison and jail inmates at midyear 2005. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of justice Statistics. (May).

(2) Ruder, Lawrence. 2003. Job demand in the cosmetology industry. Alexandria, Va.: National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences.

(3) Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. 2006. Occupational outlook handbook, 2006-07 edition, bulletin 2600. Washington, D.C.: Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office.

Tara Booth is a communications officer for the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
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Title Annotation:CT FEATURE
Author:Booth, Tara
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2006
Previous Article:Literature-N-Living: inspiring youthful offenders to embrace learning.
Next Article:An evaluation of California's Mental Health Services Continuum Program for parolees.

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