Michigan prisons host ‘Vocational Village’ open house

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IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Corrections hosted an open house Monday to showcase a program designed to keep released inmates from coming back to prison.

The program called Vocational Village is housed inside the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia. Participants are nearing release and applied to be a part of it. They live and work with other inmates who have a common goal of a better future.

Vocational Village offers vocational programs in carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and welding, among others. Calvin College also offers classes at the facility and enables inmates to get their bachelor’s degree.

MDOC Director Heidi Washington told 24 Hour News 8 that she didn’t have figures at the ready regarding what the program costs. She said the investment is in the interest of public safety.

“What we do with offenders while they’re under our jurisdiction all goes back to public safety,” she said. “We want to give people an opportunity to better their lives so that they can go back into society and be productive members.”

Employers were also at the open house to see what the program is about. Dan Shaw, the vice president of Operations at OMT Veyhl USA Corp., said he was impressed.

“We are a company of second chances,” he told 24 Hour News 8. “I think everybody needs a chance in life… I’m encouraged at what I’ve seen today.”

Washington said the first prisoners to take part in the program will be released in about a year. That’s when she says prison officials will be able to get the most important metric on the program’s success. They’ll monitor their progress and see if they’re employed using skills they learned while behind bars.

In the meantime, Washington said, MDOC has seen success in prisoner behavior. She said there have been hardly any cases of misconduct from those taking part in Vocational Village.

“What we’re already seeing inside this unit is that these guys are really taking advantage of the opportunity that is being given to them,” Washington said.

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