ESCANABA, Mich. (WZMQ) – The Delta County Sheriff’s Department, along with a workforce development organization, is working to help inmates get back on their feet.
“The Sherriff’s Department and our local criminal justice system does a good job when it comes to punishment and deterrence, but the third piece of criminal justice is rehabilitation,” said Sergeant Jeff Hansen. “We really haven’t had liftoff when it comes to some of the programs that are available.”
The Sheriff’s Department is partnering with Upper Peninsula Michigan Works! to provide life skills mentoring to non-dangerous inmates, with a focus on the 18- to 25-year-old population.
“That’s the demographic that we see the most of, and mostly the folks that are in that category are involved in a lot of self-destructive type of crimes like drug use,” Hansen said. “What we find is once we get them on a good medical and mental health regimen, that’s the perfect time to introduce programming to have it stick with them.”
According to Michigan Works! Special Initiatives Manager Darren Widder, the program is based on a national curriculum, which highlights key competencies to help inmates successfully transition back into their communities.
“Those are what we plan to build for the inmates before their release date, as well as then getting them a resource they can go to in case things do start either falling apart again or what they thought would happen when they got out wouldn’t be the cases,” Widder said.
The program will also help inmates explain their time in jail, as well as their desire to re-enter the workforce, when applying for a job.
“They might not know how to present it,” said Widder. “How do you put that on a resume? How do you account for that lost time? How do you interview past that to get the job to show, ‘Yes, I can do this. I can learn; I can be successful in the workplace.’ It’s trying to get them a core set of skills that they’re able to use to resolve conflict, to work in teams, to work for a supervisor.”
If necessary, Widden says Michigan Works! will work with employers to find the right jobs for inmates preparing to join the workforce.
“Occupational interest is going to be a piece of it too,” he said. “If the only jobs they can get are line cook or cleaning houses and that’s not of interest to the participants, we are going to try to match that occupational interest with what’s available. We also want to create a better retention rate for [employers] when they onboard someone. If that person leaves in a few weeks, a few months, even a year, there’s a cost to that.”
The Delta County Sheriff’s Department and Michigan Works! plan to launch the program in August. Sergeant Hansen says the goals are to keep inmates out of jail in the future, to help businesses, and to improve communities in the county.
“Statistically, the number one reason that people don’t re-offend once they get out of an incarceration is good, stable employment,” said Hansen. “If we can get them towards good, stable employment, we can not only have employable people for our local businesses but also make a safer community when it comes to crime reduction.”
The jail has classrooms available to use for the program. Widder says the effort will be funded by a combination of federal and states grants and Michigan Works! general funds. There will be no cost to taxpayers.