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Breaking New Ground

With shovels in hand, Michigan Department of Corrections leaders and Gov. Rick Snyder plunged into the dark ground in front of them. They lifted shovels full of soil that will soon sit beneath the state’s first Vocational Village for women. It was a symbolic start to construction on the 27,000-square-foot site, which is expected to be completed next year. “The majority of those in prison will be paroled and they need stable jobs in order to succeed in their communities,” Gov. Rick Snyder said. “The expansion of the successful Vocational Village program will help us prepare more of our returning citizens for high-demand careers and a better life in the community, while reducing the risk of returning to prison.” The Vocational Village is a first-of-its-kind skilled trades training program that prepares prisoners for careers in high-demand fields. It offers a positive learning community for prisoners who live, work and attend classes alongside one another, and share the common goal of improving their lives through education and training. “We’re excited to expand this important program to include skilled trades training for incarcerated women who will be returning to our communities,” MDOC Director Heidi Washington said. “When these prisoners obtain the education and skills they need to secure work in growing fields, they have better chances for long-term success. That means our communities are safer and the lives of prisoners and their families are improved.” The new Vocational Village at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility will have the capacity to train up to 180 prisoners in fields that will include computer coding, carpentry, cosmetology, 3D printing and graphic design. Trades offered at the facility were selected after the department surveyed prisoners on their interests and conducted research on employment prospects in a variety of fields. The new trades also fit with the MDOC’s goal to diversify the types of training offered across its Vocational Village programs, in order to best reflect Michigan’s future economy. Participants must meet measurable goals and will receive nationally-recognized certifications in their trade upon successful completion of their courses. More than 70 percent of prisoners who have completed training at the Vocational Village have secured and maintained employment, and about 30 percent are offered jobs prior to release. The Vocational Village at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility will be the state’s third site for the program overall. The MDOC opened its first Vocational Village at Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in 2016 and a second site opened at Parnall Correctional Facility in 2017. “To be able to come today and bring the third Vocational Village and an opportunity for you to learn skills that will help you go out into the world and reunite with your families and lead productive, successful lives brings me so much pride,” Director Washington told prisoners during the Nov. 19 groundbreaking ceremony. “I’m so grateful to be able to do that.” Work on the site, which includes renovations to 10,000 square feet of existing building space, will also help establish a new production facility for the Michigan Braille Transcribing Fund. About 24 prisoners at the facility are currently training to produce braille through the program, which will eventually include as many as 45 female prisoners. The Michigan Braille Transcribing Fund already operates a production site at G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson. It produces approximately one million pages of braille per year and transforms textbooks and other printed materials into braille. Prisoners have not yet been selected for participation in the new Vocational Village, but women incarcerated at the facility expressed excitement about the program. “A project like this is a village, it takes a village of people to make something like this happen,” Gov. Snyder said. “This is something that is important. I step back and wonder why we haven’t been doing this for 50 or 100 years in our country. We’re leading our nation in thinking about how to address issues around helping people reenter society in a better fashion.”