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Second Chances

For Robert Leversee, the last few months have been an important learning experience. In February, he joined a new program at the Eaton County Jail that provides vocational training and classes designed to change negative thinking. Leversee, who had been sentenced for drug possession, said he is learning to defeat his addictions by recognizing giving in to them is a choice. He is among the first participants of the department’s new Westside Residential Alternative to Prison program, which began on January 1, and currently includes 42 offenders. Participants complete four to six months of programming at the Eaton County Jail, which includes cognitive therapy classes and training in hospitality management and food technology. Offenders in the program also learn first aid and CPR and have the opportunity to earn nationally-recognized certifications in the hospitality and food service industries. “The whole concept is giving them another chance,” said Warren Wilson, an Operations Administrator for the Outstate Territory of the Field Operations Administration. “Instead of sending them to prison, it gives them a chance to change through programming in a structured setting.” The program is modeled after the successful Wayne Residential Alternative to Prison program at the Detroit Reentry Center. It provides training in hospitality management, food technology and hi-lo driving, in addition to offering cognitive therapy. The MDOC’s newest WRAP program gives West Michigan judges an additional tool during sentencing to lead offenders to a better path that doesn’t include time in prison, Wilson said. All counties west of U.S. 127 and in the Upper Peninsula are able to participate. The program targets high-risk probation violators, who would likely be prison bound otherwise. “We want them to succeed,” Wilson said. “If we can address their needs here, we can help them in the community.” After completing programming at the Eaton County Jail, offenders will complete at least one year of probation. While under supervision in the community, they will have access to substance abuse services, cognitive behavioral therapy, transitional housing, and job readiness resources. Though the program has only been running for four months, Eaton County Agent Clint Auer, whose caseload includes WRAP participants, said it is already making an impact. “We’ve seen a lot of change in these guys and their attitudes from the time they walk in until now,” Auer said. When Eaton County law enforcement officials heard the department was looking for communities to partner with on the program, they were excited for the opportunity. The Eaton County Jail had space available for classrooms and housing, and was interested in expanding programming for offenders. Eaton County Undersheriff Jeffrey Cook said the county is proud to host the program for the west side of the state, and was impressed by the Wayne Residential Alternative to Prison program after visiting it. “It gives judges some important options to provide the best outcomes for the offenders and for the community,” Cook said of the program. He said he sees the WRAP program as an important component to keeping communities safe. “When we have an opportunity to return an offender to the community in a much better position than when they came in, it becomes a crime fighting tool,” Cook said. “It doesn’t diminish our role in protecting the public. We’re looking at it as a crime reduction strategy in the long term. It’s not soft on crime, it’s attacking the problem from multiple angles.” Eaton County Lt. Larry Treadwell said the program gives offenders an alternative to serving time in prison. “This is intended to benefit them,” Treadwell said. WRAP participant Jalen Gibson said he is looking forward to returning home with the certificates he will earn through the hospitality management and food technology training. “The certificates we earn will really help,” said Gibson, who has worked for restaurants in the past. “If I can use those, I can really move up.”