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New program aims to help people in jail develop job skills

Kent Co. Jail Program
Posted at 9:32 PM, May 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 22:23:39-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Arthur Tyler prepares for another day as he scrubs his hands clean and puts on protective gloves and an apron.

“It really helped me,” said Tyler. “It really opened up my eyes.”

Tyler follows a meticulous routine alongside Dereck Adrians and James Wisement as they go onto prepare lunch for themselves and other incarcerated individuals at the Kent County Correctional Facility.

In some ways, it’s a sign of their commitment to a future that they hope serves them well.

“I definitely want to go to school,” said Wiseman. “I want to utilize what they’ve given me.”

The three men make up KCCF’s first IN2WORK program.

The Kent County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with food service provider Aramark this past spring to kick off the program.

The six-week course teaches inmates how to properly prepare meals, manage a kitchen and other industry skills.

“Right temperatures for food - I mean you can really get somebody sick if you get shellfish at the wrong temperature or something like that,” said Adrians.

The program is designed to reduce recidivism.

Graduates of the program receive a ServSafe certification, which is administered by the National Restaurant Association.

Upon release, Aramark offers exclusive access to gradates to apply for jobs within their company. They may also receive up to $2,500 for themselves, or their children, to help pay for tuition at an accredited two- or four-year college, university or vocational-technical school.

“Most of the people who are in jail eventually will transition back to our community, Kent County,” said Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young. “It’s where they have come from, it’s where they’ll go back to, so everything that we can do as a community to partner with these individuals and make them successful helps all of us.”

According to a report from the Kent County Sheriff’s Office released in March 2022, which analyzed trends with the jail last year, 92.4% of inmates held no marketable skills or trades which allowed them to support their families.

It’s an uptick from years past.

The report went onto explain that in 2016, 25.3% of inmates possessed that job readiness. It hovered around that rate through 2019, but dropped to 15.1% in 2020 and 7.6% in 2021.

COVID likely played some role in that decline. The numbers also only represent those who self-report the information to a classification officer. It’s not independently verified, so some people may lie. All inmates who stay in jail longer than three days are given a classification interview.

LaJoye-Young says regardless, it shows people need help.

She explains it’s difficult to arrange programs like this on a local level because unlike prison, people in jail often only stay incarcerated for a handful of days, which creates a challenge long term.

The average stay at KCCF is 11 days.

The jail runs substance abuse treatment programs and works with a few other local organizations to help with education, but she says IN2WORK is one of the first programs that gives inmates a tangible skillset like this.

“In our environment right now, good employees are really hard to get, so the benefit to the community is someone who is willing to work really hard, somebody who is willing to do what it takes to get the skillset to work,” said LaJoye-Young.

Upon release, Tyler, Adrians and Wiseman intend to take advantage of the benefits they earned.

All three graduated from IN2WORK at the end of April.

The partnership is going to continue for the foreseeable future. A second class with six people in it started recently.

Aramark covers all the program’s costs.

“I’m a mechanic,” said Aidrians. “I make good money. I figured this is the way my life is going to be played out, so to start thinking about school again and being able to take a grant, I thought it was just for food, but it’s not. You can use it for anything you want to use it for. My children can use it. That opened my eyes to maybe I should broaden my horizons a little bit.”

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