'Vocational Village' program helps Mich. inmates prepare for future jobs

IONIA, Mich. (AP) - A new program at a Michigan prison is part of an effort to prepare inmates for work after they're eventually released from custody.

The "Vocational Village" was established this year at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, and uses principles of occupational education in a much more concentrated format than usual, The Sentinel-Standard reported.

The program offers a certificate of employability and gives inmates an understanding of what employers seek as well as how workers should act, MLive.com reported. When it ramps up, the program will be educating 224 prisoners, including 165 for vocational trades, 12 building trade workers and 20 students earning a bachelor's degree through on-site Calvin College classes.

An event was held on Monday to unveil the program at the correctional facility, which is home to many prison education programs. Warden DeWayne Burton said participants are within 24 months of release.

"They're looking for a second chance to get out and take care of themselves and their families," Burton said.

The program has a new vision for preparing inmates with skills that those involved say are linked to the needs of employers - carpentry, plumbing and electrical, machine tooling, auto technology, horticulture and welding.

"They're dedicated to learning and growing and success," said Heidi Washington, director of the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The state spends millions on such programs statewide. For the one in Ionia, inmates from across Michigan's prison system applied.

Each classroom offers hands-on instruction, such as mock homes for the building trades, or growing vegetables for Meals on Wheels.

"We want to put together an experience for them that helps prepare them to be a citizen in the world and helps them understand what is going to be expected of them," Washington said.

Published: Thu, Apr 28, 2016