From inmate to employee: Inside new prison skilled trades program

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JACKSON, Mich. (WLNS) — It’s a problem prisons see across the country and right here in Michigan.

Inmates who get out of prison, re-offend, and then go back behind bars.

A prison in mid-Michigan is trying to break that cycle by giving inmates lifelong skills.

6 News got an inside look at the program Wednesday.

Beyond the fences and guards at the Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson, inmates are building a better life.

“I think it gives a lot of us the opportunity to be proud of ourselves again, to work toward something,” said Lee Robar, an inmate in the program.

The grand opening of Vocational Village at the Parnall Correctional Facility took place Wednesday morning.

Prison officials, local business leaders, and members of the media were invited to get a close look at the village.

“The ability to provide skilled trades and give the offenders a skill that they could go out into the world, fill a job that had been going unfilled, and help themselves and also help the community,” said Heidi Washington, Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The Michigan Department of Corrections received extra funds to turn an old warehouse on the prison campus into a training center.

Inmates learn the latest in concrete and masonry, robotics, carpentry, and automotive repair.

They can also learn how to operate a forklift and semi-truck.

“They have to send an application and an essay indicating they want to be a part of the program. And then we screen them to make sure they have positive behavior, misconduct free for a period of time. They have to be within so many months of their earliest release date. Typically between 15 to 18 months of their earliest release date, so that we have adequate time to make sure they get through any of the programs that they’re a part of here,” said Melinda Braman, Warden of Parnall Correctional Facility.

Inmates say these new programs are giving them hope that they can live a productive life when they get out of prison.

One of them is Lee Robar.

He’s learning carpentry in the four months he has left behind bars.

“A lot of my life was in drugs and crime. I was involved in the wrong things.  I’m hoping to go home and really rely on this to do the best I can do,” Robar said.

The prison hopes local businesses can step up to give these inmates a second chance, turning them from inmates into employees.

“We have talent here that can be of use to them,” Washington said.

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