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New training programs get inmates job ready

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Over the last two decades, Joseph Gratiot has been in and out of prison and never held a job that paid more than $10 an hour.

But thanks to a new training program at the Detroit Reentry Center, he’ll have the opportunity to earn double when he’s released in December.

“I thought I was just going to leave here with the jacket on my shoulders, but I’m leaving with two licenses,” said Gratiot, 37, who earned certifications in asbestos and lead remediation while serving a 30-day term for a parole violation. “This opportunity is good for anybody. Why not use the free time to better myself and get a new life.”

Gratiot was among the first group of inmates to take part in the pilot program offered inside the state correctional facility through a partnership with the city of Detroit. The initiative offers certifications in environmental services, culinary arts and hi-lo operation, and is modeled after grant-funded training courses for Detroit residents through the city’s Building Department and Detroit Employment Solutions Corp.

Mayor Mike Duggan announced the program during a visit Thursday to the Michigan Department of Corrections re-entry center on Ryan Road, saying the effort will give Detroiters a chance to reintegrate into the local workforce at starting pay that can top $20 per hour.

“This city, as we all know, is coming back, but the comeback isn’t going to mean very much if that recovery doesn’t include everybody,” Duggan said during a news conference at the center. The facility houses about 800 inmates. “We can’t afford to waste lives in this city.”

The environmental training program is built on the city’s recently completed Detroit Environmental Employment Program, or DEEP, which helped 79 Detroit residents earn certifications in various environmental specialties last month. Duggan said the training program will have 225 inmates job-ready in the next year.

Funding is from $5 million in grants from the Michigan Talent Investment Agency and the Department of Labor, first announced by Duggan in 2015.

The corrections-based training will be offered to groups of about 25 inmates every month. The certifications, officials said, will prepare the returning residents to interview and secure positions as soon as they are released.

The Detroit Employment Solutions Corp. has had One-Stop Service Centers in place at the Detroit Reentry Center since late 2015 and at the Macomb Correctional Facility since earlier this year. Both are modeled after the city workforce agency’s community One-Stops and offer vocational training, interviewing and resume skills and career advisement.

Jose Reyes, interim president and CEO of DESC, said inmates taking part in the new courses can earn wages of up to $20 per hour or higher for the environmental field certifications including asbestos, lead and hazardous waste abatement. Hi-lo operators are earning hourly wages of $16 to $17, he said.

“This is a growth industry with the amount of housing that needs to be removed or renovated,” Reyes said of the environmental program.

The mayor on Thursday noted the recent release of $42 million in federal funds for Detroit’s demolition program and the city’s plan to take down 10,000 more houses over the next two years.

“We’ve taken the initiative ourselves to say we are going to improve the job market by getting people trained to do asbestos and lead removal,” he said. “They will walk out of here and find themselves in a field in demand.”

Council members Janee Ayers and Scott Benson joined Duggan in the announcement.

Ayers, who founded Detroit’s Returning Citizen’s Task Force, said the programs will provide help to those who should be given “their next best chance.”

“It’s personal because I lived it,” said Ayers, who spent her weekends as a child coming to prison to visit her father. “I understand what it means to a person and a family.”

CFerretti@detroitnews.com