FEBRUARY 13, 1996

BURGAW - Mentally retarded inmates at Pender Correctional Institution are learning landscaping, horticulture, commercial sewing and woodworking skills in a six-month training program.

"The inmates adjust well," said Prison Psychologist Russell Smith. "A full performance appraisal is completed for each inmate. Those who meet the program's objectives and display good behavior graduate. Those who don't remain in the program."

Designed to teach basic work and social skills, the training program runs five days a week. It started in 1993. Each of the 66 inmates in the program is assigned two of the skill activities by prison staff.

Inmates working in the landscape and design learn to measure lawn areas and to decide where to place plants or trees. They get experience in clearing an area, grading, filling, leveling and tilling. Inmates learn to take care of trees and install lawn borders of wood, stone, brick or plastic. Inmates can also master hand planting and laying walkways or patios.

At the prison's greenhouse, inmates learn about watering, lighting, fertilizer, seed germination, transplanting, pruning and recognizing different pests.

"Staff members are actually therapists in work situations," said Smith. "Therapeutic interaction is what this program is all about. Staff teach inmates about life and living during routine work activities by responding to the inmate's behavior and conversations. We try to build on the positive."

"This is clearly a strong, worthwhile program," said Correction Secretary Franklin Freeman. "The training program provides mentally retarded inmates with important social and work skills that could keep them from returning to prison after their release."