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Employers are recruiting graduates of a Michigan prison's job training program

State Rep. Joe Haveman and Andy Ribbens, President of Premier Finishing in Grand Rapids, look over some of the products created by prisoners in the machines shop at the Richard Handlon Correctional Facility.
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
State Rep. Joe Haveman and Andy Ribbens, president of Premier Finishing in Grand Rapids, look over some of the products created by prisoners in the machines shop at the Richard Handlon Correctional Facility.

The Next Idea

Most offenders in Michigan’s prisons will someday be released. Figuring out what to do next is difficult. Some may lack skills, and employers are wary of hiring people who have done time.

At Ionia's Handlon Correctional Facility, they're addressing this problem with a program called Trading Places. Inmates use their time inside to prepare for trade apprenticeships on the outside.
DeWayne Burton, the warden at Handlon Correctional Facility, joined Stateside to talk about the program. He says the goal is to keep inmates from returning to prison by starting them on the right path. They get them started by providing training for good jobs when they are released.

Among the skills that inmates at Handlon can learn include construction, cabinet making, plumbing and electrical. According to Burton, he has companies reaching out to him to meet with prisoners to recruit them for jobs when they are released. This is exactly the results he wants to see out of Trading Places.

"My ultimate hope is that they are able to get out and never have to return to prison," Burton said. "Before I'm a warden, I'm a taxpayer and it costs us over $30,000 a year to keep these guys incarcerated. So that's why we try to give them all the tools that they need so that when they leave they don't have to come back."

"In addition to the job, there's other re-entry services that we help them with," Burton added. "We help them with finding a place to stay. We have job coaches, we help them with health care, we help them with counseling. The theory behind it is ... everything that I just named, is cheaper than $30,000."

Carlos Gomez is one of those inmates taking advantage of the Trading Places program. Gomez has a high school education and has been in and out of prison since 1994. Now he's learning how to be a plumber and is taking electrical courses. Gomez is eligible for parole in 2018 and sees this as an opportunity to better himself.  

"This is the best thing that I've ever seen in 20-plus years of doing time," Gomez said. "This is an opportunity that I jumped at."

Listen to the full interviews below to hear why this program has Warden Burton happy to come to work each day, the difference between Trading Places and the Vocational Village program, and how Gomez and his fellow inmates are affected by it.

The Next Idea is Michigan Radio's project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.

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Michigan Radio originally aired this story on June 26, 2017.

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