By ZHAO PENG
Capital News Service
LANSING — Since 2014, only 30 percent of parolees in Michigan have found a job after being released from prison. The other 70 percent are struggling, according to the Department of Corrections.
Chris Gautz, a public information officer from the department, said parolees find jobs in sectors ranging from fast food to restaurants to factories to agriculture. Some are even starting their own business.
The department provides educational resources to help prepare prisoners for their release.
“We have programs in our prisons that teach prisoners to create dental prosthetics. And also we have a Braille transcribing program for the blind. This is such a unique skill that we have several prisoners who have started their own business to transcribe Braille books,” Gautz said.
“Or better, some prisoners created their own dental laboratories to provide dental prosthetics for dental specialists around the country,” he said.
He also mentioned that the department is trying to offer training for skills that are in high demand.
“We have spent a lot time with them talking about what kind of skills they are going to need to get a job and provide them with a lot of job opportunities,” Gautz continued. “For example, in vocational training, we have welding programs to help prisoners learn skills about operating machines.”
Prisoners who are proficient in such skills can get a certificate that they can take to their potential employers, Gautz added.
“The department offers a GED, and all prisoners will get that level of education before parole,” he said. “Some prisoners go to college after being paroled in hopes of earning higher pay. And a small number of inmates are getting an associate or bachelor’s degree while in prison.”
Gautz said the department takes the training a step further, beyond actual skills.
“We are also working on resumes and interviews and let the parolees know what the employers are looking for,” said Gautz. “They can know not only the technical skills but also how to work with people in an office.”
According to the department, some employers find it difficult to hire ex-offenders. But there are some, such as Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids and Sakthi Automotive in Detroit, that have successfully hired ex-offenders after they served their time.
“These companies are willing to hire parolees because they have skills and strong work ethic,” Gautz said.
Goodwill Industries of West Michigan in Muskegon said its program of helping ex-offenders to get a job primarily focuses on resume writing, job searching and interviewing training.
Bill Wiebenga, a supervisor of the ex-offenders program at Goodwill Industries, said 46 percentage of ex-offenders can get full-time employment when out of prison. Manufacturing and food service are two big sectors that hire ex-offenders.
“One of the biggest challenges for these people to get a job is they don’t have identification when they get out of prison,” said Wiebenga. “So we have to spend time to help them get ID,” such as a state ID, social security card or driver’s license.
Wiebenga added, “Some employers will ask questions about their background. You may lie about it during the interview, but the employers will find it on the resume. So what we suggest for them to do is to let them know what you did and what you did to correct your mistakes.”
However, challenges such as a lack of funding also face Goodwill Industries in Muskegon and the prison reentry program at Networks Northwest in Traverse city.
“For five years, our funding has been cut 50 percent,” said Jessica Willis, a prison reentry community coordinator at Networks Northwest. “That forces us to put our funding into the most important needs, which are housing and employment. Unfortunately, we also have to cut other things and our staff to meet those funding cuts.”
By ZHAO PENG