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Beauty Behind Bars: Aveda Arts & Sciences’ Groundbreaking Incarceration Vocational Training Program

Published April 25, 2023
Published April 25, 2023

Industry vet Edwin Neill is convinced cosmetology is a force for good in society. “It makes people look better, they feel better,” he says. “And that intimate relationship between a stylist and guest is so, so important.”

As a third-generation hair-business owner and wearer of many beauty-related hats—President of both Neill Corporation and Aveda Arts & Sciences Institutes and Chairman of the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology—it’s hardly surprising Neill is so convinced of the positive psychological impact of a stellar coif.

But here’s what he’s even more excited about: helping to put a program in place that trains incarcerated women to become licensed cosmetologists. The big idea? When they walk through those prison gates, license in hand, they have a solid career path and a true means to get their lives back on track.

Now in its second full year, the Louisiana Prison Cosmetology Program already has five graduates under its belt and operates in two locations—its original outpost, Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (LCIW), in St. Gabriel, and Louisiana Transitional Center for Women (LTCW), located in Tallulah.

The program was the brainchild of local judge Trudy White, who, in 2017, came before the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology and proposed that it create a program to teach hair styling to inmates at LCIW.

From there, Jimmy Le Blanc, Secretary for the state’s Department of Public Safety and Corrections and staunch advocate for vocational training for incarcerated individuals, got involved. The prison system already had programs in place for other vocations, namely culinary arts, horticulture, and welding—why not give cosmetology a shot?

While the plan sounded promising, the biggest initial hurdle was finding qualified personnel to train the inmates. “It was a real challenge,” says Neill. “Beauty instructors demand a high salary.”

And rightfully so. “It’s one thing to do, and another thing to teach,” says Neill, who explains that even “basic” styling skills, such as sectioning and parting hair, are actually anything but. “It’s very technical,” he says. “There’s so much more to it than people think.”

“Everyone who comes to test from the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, be they students or prospective instructors, they’re just so prepared.”
By Edwin Neill, President, Aveda Arts & Sciences

Neill credits Henry Sanders, Head of Career and Technical education for the Louisiana Department of Safety and Corrections, for coming up with the ideal instructor workaround.

“Henry knew there were inmates in the facility who were licensed cosmetologists,” Neill recalls. “He was like, ‘Look, they already have their cosmetology licenses. Let’s train them to be instructors. It’s only 500 hours.’”

Lauren Williams, an instructor for the Aveda Institute of Baton Rouge, expressed an interest in teaching the licensed LCIW inmates how to train. Once that happened, Aveda Arts stepped in, bankrolling the 500 hours Williams offered to devote to the project.

With those complex wheels set in motion—Williams teaching the prospective instructors, who in turn would get licensed to teach and then lead the inaugural class of inmates—the graduates of the program passed their licensing exams in June 2022, a true cause for celebration.

“Everyone who comes to test from the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, be they students or prospective instructors, they’re just so prepared,” says Neill.

Prepared, and wholly viable in the workforce, too. “I think this program demonstrates how important a vocational license is,” says Neill, explaining that as a paroled individual, there’s a world of difference between telling a prospective employer you learned to style hair in prison and actually wielding a cosmetology license.

“If you pass your technical exam, and get a certification, I just think that’s really important,” says Neill, who would love nothing more than to see the prison cosmetology training program expand across the country. “I feel like we’re still getting momentum on this, but for sure, wherever Aveda Arts is, we’d like this program to be there, too.”


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