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TALENT INVESTMENT: Job Training in Prison Chipping Away at Ex-Offender Pool

October 9, 2017       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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What is a returning citizen?

Well, they used to be called "ex-offenders," but with job training, the state is making admirable efforts at rehabilitating them.

Vocational Villages established in the past year in two Michigan's prisons are showing promise in preparing prisoners for careers in high demand occupational fields, according to state reports.

The huge pool of 42,628 prisoners has been trending downward since peaking at 51,577 in 2006, and part of the reason is a decline in recidivism, states the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Several state agencies plus the federally-funded Michigan Works program are leading the charge in job training, putting ex-offenders behind the wheel as truck drivers and on the factory floor as computer-controlled machine tool operators, among other jobs.

This corner has long contended that the cost of corrections, running about $2 billion annually, is like a millstone around the neck of the nation's vaunted "Arsenal of Democracy" that led industrial production during World War II and beyond.

Corrections costs have weighed down higher education and the K-12 school aid fund, putting Michigan behind the 8-ball compared to more progressive states like Massachusetts.

Two Vocational Villages, at Ionia and Jackson, offer training to prisoners in welding, CNC machining, automotive technology, robotics, commercial truck driving, concrete/masonry construction, plumbing, carpentry and electrical technology.

"Computer-controlled machine tool operators have one the highest long-term projected job growth rates of nearly 30 percent through 2024 and are expected to see 650 annual openings," said the report entitled "Returning Citizens: Challenges and Opportunities in the Michigan Labor Market."

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters should grow by 11.4 percent and generate 279 opening each year while carpenters will add jobs at a rate of 7.2 percent and need 393 workers each year.

Besides these successful programs, other state initiatives are putting "returning citizens" back to stable occupations. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit incentivizing employers to hire from nine target groups. Hiring someone from these groups and employing them for 120 to 400 hours may qualify the employer for a 25-40 percent tax credit on the worker's first $6,000 in gross earnings the first year they work.

In the past year and a half, the Michigan Talent Investment Agency (TIA) have certified tax credits for nearly 1,000 positions for returning citizens.

Protection is offered for hiring high-risk job seekers through the Fidelity Bond Program who have been rejected by a commercial bonding company. "The bond protects the employer from acts of theft, larceny, forgery or embezzlement committed by a bonded employee," the report states.

Another ambitious progressive idea toward the rehabilitation of former prisoners is that of "ban the box."

Ban the box is an international campaign to remove questions about criminal history from job applications, directed in the U.S. by the National Employment Law Project.

Employers are urged to consider a job candidate's qualifications without the stigma of a criminal record. "Move the box" is an aim to postpone criminal background inquiries until a job candidate is evaluated on their merits.

In a tight labor market, such initiatives are helping employers find the talent they need, according to Michigan's Labor Market News.


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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
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