Vocational training

Vermont retools inmate labor program with job training

MONTPELIER, Vermont (WCAX) — Vermont inmates can work in prison to earn extra money, but the program has encountered a number of hurdles in recent years and has operated in the red. Now officials think they might have a potential fix that could also help address some of the state’s biggest criminal justice issues.

While Tim Burgess was an inmate at Newport Prison in 2006, he helped fellow inmates write CVs for post-release job applications. “We have to find the positives that they’ve made in their lives, the positives that they’ve made while incarcerated, and make a resume of that,” Burgess said.

Depending on the job and the institution, inmates involved in the Correctional Industries Program can earn between $2 per day and $2 per hour deposited in a matching savings account. This job can include making everything from furniture to license plates to street signs.

During the pandemic, the program shifted to making face masks, plexiglass shields and roadside quarantine signs. But the program is not financially viable, ending last year with a deficit of $2 million. State officials say it’s part of a broader trend of fewer inmates available to work and weaker demand for furniture products that can only be sold to the state and organizations. non-profit. “It’s extremely difficult to produce hardware when you don’t have a stable workforce,” said DOC’s Kim Bushey.

COVID-related health restrictions have also prevented detainees from being transported together to work sites, such as the cutting of headstones at Green Mount Cemetery in Montpellier.

COVID restrictions have created obstacles for prisoner work crews at Green Mount Cemetery in Montpellier.(WCAX)

Next month, the state will present a plan to transform the program. With the help of more than $1 million in federal grants, officials say they want to focus on job training rather than manufacturing. This will include partnering with state colleges and the Department of Labor to invest in culinary, landscaping, janitorial, mechanical and welding skills. “We’re looking at how to tie some of these pieces together in a more effective and efficient way,” Bushey said.

The state hopes the real savings will come in the long run by reducing the prison population and the $80,000 a year needed to house each prisoner. “Someone gets out of jail, they can stay out of jail because they have a secure residence, a secure job, an income, they have the full services they need in the community – so they don’t have to don’t come back to jail,” said DOC’s Allen Cormier.

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