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State lawmakers think food service training could be future for inmates

A cafeteria worker's gloved hand grabs waffle fries with tongs.
U.S. Air Force

An effective food system in the state’s prisons should go beyond just feeding prisoners. That’s the message of some lawmakers in the state Senate.

The governor announced he wants to end privatized food service in the state’s prisons. Senator John Proos, R-St. Joseph, said this is an opportunity to go a step further. He’s put together a work group to explore training inmates in food services. Proos said there are thousands of available jobs across the state in the restaurant industry. 

“Now’s the time to redesign the way that we give transferrable skills, credited skills, and the ability for those individuals coming back out to work in the marketplace that has significant job needs today,” said Proos.

The workgroup will include representatives from the Michigan Department of Corrections, the Michigan Restaurant Association, and business leaders in the restaurant industry.

“We have agreed to participate in a work group that will look at ways to strengthen the skills the prisoners receive while they are working in the kitchens, and potentially earn a nationally recognized certificate that would enable them to find a job upon release in the food service sector,” said Chris Gautz, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections, in an email. “We already have a great working relationship with the Restaurant Association and are looking forward to seeing what comes of this workgroup.”

Gautz said a majority of the basic food service work in the kitchens has always been done by prisoners.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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