Program coming to jail will educate, rehabilitate

R. R. Branstrom | Daily Press Sgt. Jeff Hansen stops at a station containing tablets for use by people held in Delta County Jail during a tour for Michigan Works! employees Darren Widders, Cortney Sanders, and Sam Frizzell. A new partnership is underway for a program to help incarcerated people secure employment and stable housing once released.

ESCANABA — On Wednesday, a meeting was held at the Delta County Sheriff’s Department to discuss the formation of a new program with the goal of helping prevent repeat offenses by providing education to people jailed in Delta County. The program, which will be conducted by Michigan Works!, has been employed elsewhere with success.

The program aims to educate people who are struggling to find themselves in healthy, productive positions — resulting in rehabilitation, crime reduction and safer communities.

“All of the statistical data that you look at, whether it’s from the Federal Bureau of Justice or any number of studies that are done regionally, locally, nationally — Everything says that job placement and stable housing are the two biggest keys towards lack of recidivism, lack of re-offending,” says Sgt. Jeff Hansen.

Hansen estimates that 90% of the population currently incarcerated in Escanaba are repeat offenders. Beyond that, the demographic has changed in recent years.

“What we have now is people that are in such horrific condition, both mentally, medically — when it comes to what we have to do to rehabilitate them physically from hard drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine,” said Hansen, comparing it to a one-off mistake like a barfight.

According to Hansen, hospitalization, medication and continued care are often required, but without the skills to manage on the outside, the same individuals who expressed wanting a better life when they were locked up end up falling back into the same cycle.

Prisons have job placement education built into system operations, unlike jails. The program coming to the county jail in Escanaba will be new to the facility, but because the program model already exists through Michigan Works!, there will be no extra cost to taxpayers.

According to Hansen, he had been idly chatting with others who worked in the Delta County Service Center, adjacent to the jail, when he mentioned how sad and frustrating it is when current and former inmates ask him for guidance and he does not have the means to help them. Fortunately, the individuals were with Michigan Works!, and realized they have the exact resources necessary to help.

The Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program is currently utilized in alternative schools and other environments with highly at-risk communities across the nation. Despite the name, the program is very adaptable and is not only for people who have graduated high school. Credential attainment, including GED, is one of the important steps. People can be in the program for months or years, learning valuable durable skills and concepts.

JAG is based on proven methods of adult learning theory, which is learner-based and driven by motivation, as students see a use for the information being taught. Since the goals will be job acquisition and retention and safe housing, Hansen anticipates plenty of interest.

Hansen will select people he recognizes as good candidates for the program. To ensure eligibility, mental and medical health checks will be run, along with security screenings.

When they reach the classroom, Darren Widder of Michigan Works! said the team will evaluate each participant’s level and commitment, both initially and along the way.

“We know there might be some slip-ups and they need to disengage for three or four weeks, but we would want them back, because we know if they had that potential, if they had that dream once, they still probably have it. They just made a mistake,” said.

He explained that the course can be picked up anywhere if they identify other individuals who qualify to join.

“All their needs are going to be different, but they’re going to benefit or get beneficial skills from all of it,” said Cortney Sanders, also with Michigan Works!

Sanders has been operating out of the Escanaba Student Success Center and seen results of the program first-hand. After completion, students remain in a follow-up phase for a year with check-ins at least once a month, but sometimes they reach out more than that.

“The key is building that relationship so they want to come back and with us,” she said.

Hansen has a space in mind that he intends to turn into a classroom, and he showed it to the Michigan Works! team and the Daily Press during a jail tour after Wednesday’s meeting. The area is sufficient for the class size discussed, and Hansen says it has hookups to be equipped with laptops or whatever may be needed to make the program happen.

Widder, Sanders, and Sam Frizzell, all of Michigan Works!, will be conducting the program. They expect to be ready to begin in August.


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