Mich. doubles capacity to prep inmates for in-demand jobs

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Associated Press on September 3, 2017 by David Eggert

Inside what was once a prison license plate factory, 42-year-old inmate Richard Willett spends his days in a converted robotics lab, learning how to operate computerized machinery in hopes of working a good-paying job when he’s freed.

It’s better than his past two prison stints, when he mostly just waited for parole only to end up back behind bars.

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get out there and do what I got to do to succeed,” said Willett, who delivered pizzas after his last release. A hernia operation and painkiller prescription began a “downward spiral” into old bad habits in Taylor, he said, ending with a sentence for heroin possession.

Now Willett is among the first prisoners living and studying at a newly opened “vocational village” at the minimum-security Parnall Correctional Facility near Jackson. It’s the second school to be launched in as many years by the Michigan Department of Corrections, more than doubling capacity from about 200 inmates to roughly 550.

Soon-to-be released prisoners who qualify are removed from the general population and assigned to the exclusive village for housing and job training that simulates a regular work day. It offers some of the same options provided at the other program — in Ionia — but also masonry, robotics, truck driving and fork lift operation.