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Education is a cornerstone of the MDOC’s efforts to prepare men and women for success, with the goal of promoting employment, self-sufficiency, agency, and public safety. Education helps define how we interact with the world around us and is an ongoing opportunity for growth and change. Research also continuously shows that education is one of the best ways to reduce future re-offense. That is why the MDOC focuses on providing a variety of educational programs that are designed to meet students at their current educational level, with the goal of instilling a “student” mindset that can continue to positively impact them for the rest of their lives.
The Education process within the MDOC starts with completing appropriate assessments to determine student ability and develop an education plan for each student. This may begin with English as a Second Language (ESL) programming, special education classes, or academic classes that will result in a high school equivalency. For those that are ready to take the next step with their education, vocational or academic counseling will occur to help develop a plan for possible Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs or post-secondary classes. Many individuals will get the opportunity to participate in those programs while incarcerated, including earning industry recognized credentials, but the MDOC’s focus on education extends beyond incarceration to promoting opportunities for ongoing education post-release with educational partners around the state.
The Department is the largest provider of adult education in the state. Academic programming is provided through open entry and open exit enrollment to allow for enrollment in a variety of programs. The goal is for each student to achieve their educational goals as efficiently and economically as possible.
Title 1 is a federally funded education service offered to offenders who are under 22 years of age who have not earned their high school equivalency. Services may include a combination of Academic, Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Employment Readiness. These classes prepare students for future educational opportunities whether that be Pell programming, correspondence classes or CTE. Upon release, the link is provided for Diploma Sender to obtain transcripts or copies of diplomas.
English as a Second Language (ESL) is offered at designated facilities for prisoners whom English is not their native language and who are functioning below the 5th grade level in reading as measured by the state-approved assessment tools. Students are enrolled in traditional academic classes or transferred to facilities who offer ESL services.
Special Education services are provide as required by the federally mandated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the MDOC education policies and the MDOC Special Education Plan. Services are provided at designated facilities to eligible prisoners under 22 years of age. Students learn to advocate for themselves as they prepare for various transitions into adulthood.
Career and Technical Education (CTE)
The Department understands that individuals need marketable skills to be competitive in the job market and therefore has invested significant funding in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programming to ensure students are trained on the most up to date equipment and technology.
The CTE programs incorporate instructional strategies that are based on business and industry skill. All CTE programs provide industry recognized credentials or licensure. Instruction incorporates academic content, technical skills, and workplace behaviors necessary for success in careers of the 21st century. Our strategy is to incorporate applied learning that contributes to the individual’s development of higher-order reasoning and problem-solving skills; work attitudes; general employability skills; technical skills; occupation-specific skills; and knowledge of all aspects of an industry driven trade.
Vocational Villages have been created with the goal of providing a positive learning experience for those who are serious about completing Career and Technical Education (CTE) and obtaining employment upon release. Potential students must submit an application to be considered for placement and must pass extensive internal screening criteria. Students enrolled in the Vocational Village are housed together in a common unit. By housing these individuals who share the common goal of improving their lives through education together, we create a more positive, productive environment that promotes cooperative discussions, study sessions and leisure time activities. Students have full days of training and classroom instruction intended to mimic a typical workday outside prison walls.
MDOC strives to find employers who are committed to hiring skilled offenders across the State of Michigan. We continue to develop public and private sector understanding of prison-based vocational training and workforce development and continue to identify marketable skills and training curriculum to address employment demand in Michigan.
State Correctional Opportunity for Rehabilitation and Employment (SCORE)
SCORE develops opportunities to provide community service projects and outreach collaborations with 501c3 organizations and State Agencies. Through these partnerships, MDOC programs have provided projects, service or donations completed by a Career and Technical Education programs that is not a direct requirement of the curriculum but offers students the opportunity to apply skills learned in CTE programs to gain valuable work experience while providing a meaningful service to the community.
One of the biggest barriers individuals face on parole or after discharge is obtaining employment due to a lack of proper identification. That is why vital documents are a foundation of the MDOC’s efforts to prepare men and women for success. MDOC has continued to work with multiple agencies to provide individuals with their vital documents, all free of charge to the prisoner or parolee. Once a vital document is obtained, it is stored in the record office file and then provided upon release.
Birth certificates are the first step in the vital documents process. Without a birth certificate, individuals are unable to obtain a Social Security card or State ID/Driver’s License. The birth certificate process typically begins upon entry to the reception center. However, an prisoners can request to obtain their birth certificate at any point during their incarceration. Birth certificates can be obtained from other states and some foreign countries as necessarily. Prisoners can obtain one free birth certificate from the Department.
Social Security card
Social Security cards are required when applying for employment opportunities. As such, the Michigan Department of Corrections and the Social Security Administration have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to facilitate the process for obtaining a replacement Social Security card. The process established by the MOU applies to prisoners who are U.S. citizens, who have only a single Social Security number on file with the MDOC, and who need a replacement Social Security card. Social Security cards are typically requested within 180 days of the offender’s parole or discharge.
State ID/Driver’s License
A valid photo ID is vital for not only obtaining employment, but also opening a bank account, securing housing, or other benefits. Due to importance of having a state-issued ID, the Department of Corrections and the Department of State (MDOS) have developed the Returning Citizens Identification Card Program.
The purpose of the Returning Citizens Identification Card Program is to assist as many prisoners as possible each year with obtaining their State ID/Driver License (ID/DL). To accomplish this, facility staff have been trained to prepare documentation required for an ID and take approved photos. Once facility staff have prepared the necessary documentation, MDOS processes the request for an ID/DL. Eligibility for obtaining an ID or DL are ultimately determined by MDOS.
The Michigan Department of Corrections partners with several Post-Secondary providers to offer credit-bearing college courses inside prisons that may result in a degree. When someone decides to continue their education, they are taking a step toward self-improvement, increased future earnings, and a reduced risk of reoffending in the future. Attending college while incarcerated can benefit the student, their family, and the community. Those that attend college while incarcerated are statistically less likely to return to prison and can serve as important role models and mentors.
The Michigan Department of Corrections currently partners with the following providers, with the potential to add additional providers once Pell access is expanded in the future:
Mott Community College
Siena Heights University
Certificate of Employability
The Certificate of Employability was created to help reduce the stigma of incarceration and promote employment for those who have developed new skills while in prison. This certificate allows qualified students who meet specific criteria to earn a certificate that helps protect future employers from potential legal claims from hiring someone that has been incarcerated.
Certificates of Employability are issued to offenders in compliance with Michigan Compiled Law 791.234d.
Exit Interviews and Work Force Development Files
Preparing to reenter the community can be a time of uncertainty and potential stress. To help with this transition, education staff create and maintain a Workforce Development (WFD) file for each student. The WFD file contains educational records, resumes, vital documents, certificates earned, and documentation of positive activities. WFD files are provided to the parolee at the time of release so they have all the documents needed to assist in gaining employment.
The Resume Workshop program prepares returning citizens for job success by focusing on essential job seeking skills. In Resume Workshop, participants attend sessions that teach them the job seeking process and how to market themselves to potential employers. These skills include finding and reviewing job postings, filling out job applications, writing resumes and cover letters, understanding interview protocols, and following up on a job interview. The workshop also provides the opportunity to improve their interviewing skills by participating in a series of mock interviews.
Digital technology is everywhere in society and there is a digital divide separating those who have the basic skills when using computers and other technologies and those who do not. To reduce the digital divide for returning citizens, participants are offered digital literacy in Employment Readiness. In digital literacy, participants learn about digital technology and develop practical computer skills which are essential for current workplaces. Participants learn basic vocabulary around computing and the internet. They also learn the basics of how to use office applications, such as a word processing program, and learn how to touch type. Participants have an opportunity to earn a digital literacy certification after completing this portion of Employment Readiness.
To empower returning citizens in financial management, they are given the 14-module FDIC Money Smart program in Employment Readiness. The Money Smart program is a comprehensive personal finance program covering topics such as saving, investing, managing credit, buying a house, financing, and goal setting. Participants could earn the FDIC Money Smart certification after completing the program.