Michigan inmates get job training in 'Vocational Village'

IONIA, Mich. (AP) — Few states have been more aggressive in releasing inmates and diverting offenders than Michigan, where a decade ago, one out of every 200 people was in prison, and penal costs were beginning to crowd out basic government services.

After easing parole policies, the state managed to cut its 51,000-plus prison population by about 18 percent. But costs kept surpassing $2 billion a year, in part because too many freed inmates came back.

Now Michigan is trying to stop the boomerang effect with a new program that removes soon-to-be-released inmates from the general population and assigns them to an exclusive "vocational village" for job training. The idea is to send them out through the prison gates with marketable skills that lead to a stable job, the kind that will keep them out of trouble long term.

In the village, inmates have "some protection and isolation from the pressures of the rest of the prison compound," state Corrections Director Heidi Washington said. "They are up every day when they're supposed to be, and they're engaged in learning and perfecting their skill or their trade all day long."

The system marks a turnabout for a Republican-controlled state where the get-tough approach has prevailed for years.

Student Reactions

Karly Burgett, freshman elementary education major

"I think that this has a positive influence on them," Burgett said. "It just gives them better motivation to do good when they come out."

William Freeman, freshman theater major

"I feel like that is a really important thing for prisoners who've been gone from society for such a long time," Freeman said.

Kevin Johnson, sophomore pre-business major

"I believe the program is beneficial because they have no foundation when they get out," Johnson said. 

Kori Bethea, junior social studies education major 

"I think they should get job training and education before they are released, that way when they are released they can be more like the person they were before they went to jail," Bethea said.