Empowering ex-offenders… slowly

People leaving prison face many obstacles: finding affordable housing and a job, just to start. We’ve done many stories on those issues at MPR News. But the biggest challenge for ex-inmates may be dealing with the stigma that hangs on them like a prison uniform. It manifests as waves of shame and resentment, coloring their initial months back in society and making reintegration (without re-offense) even harder.

There’s a way to make those emotions easier to bear. The trick, experts say, is to gradually reduce offenders’ isolation and increase their self-worth. That battle will probably happen as a bunch of small steps, such as one made by the Hennepin County Board and Summit Academy in Minneapolis, a nonprofit educational and vocational training center that concentrates on residents of economically-depressed neighborhoods in the Twin Cities.

Their recent agreement restructures the county’s Sentencing to Service Homes Program, which until now has trained offenders in construction skills using community work sites for correctional inmates in state prisons. Now they’ll be trained by Summit Academy, and at the end of training, they’ll receive Rehabilitation Technician certification.

Under the new partnership, trainees will be recruited and jointly selected by STS Homes, Hennepin County Community Corrections and Rehabilitation, and Summit Academy. The school will offer two 10-week training modules. The first includes classroom instruction in carpentry mathematics, blueprint reading, building materials, hand and power tools, framing, weatherization techniques, and construction safety. The second module, held at Summit, consists of on-site construction and tear down of small homes and garages.

As part of the new arrangement, STS Homes will relocate its camper cabin production facility from Red Wing to the Summit Academy campus.

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