Grant will expand vocational training for DuPage jail inmates
Preparing inmates for success after they are released from jail is at the heart of DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick's goal of reducing recidivism and providing a "continuum of care."
In the last few years, his office and the JUST of DuPage nonprofit have been working to advance that vision within the correctional facility. They created programs centered around addiction recovery, education, life skills and -- among the newest and most critical pieces -- workforce training for high-demand, well-paying jobs.
Those efforts now will be supported by a federal grant dedicated to boosting vocational opportunities, Mendrick said.
Eighty-eight incarcerated individuals so far have completed the jail's janitorial services program, for which JUST of DuPage is authorized as a certified trainer, Executive Director Michael Beary said. With the Federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funding, the number of graduates is expected to increase from about 40 to 120 per year.
"This provides us with some sustainability to keep the program going year after year," Beary said.
The course costs about $550 per student for the exams, books and materials, he said. Having those expenses covered frees up inmate welfare funds to be used for more mental health and addiction resources.
The grant also will support additional programming being developed for other fields, such as welding and basic carpentry, Beary said. And it helps to solidify an ongoing partnership with the workNet DuPage Career Center by covering the costs of staff members meeting with qualified inmates, assessing their eligibility for vocational programs and assisting with resume writing and interviewing skills.
The workNet system, in addition to the sheriff's office and JUST of DuPage, can then continue serving as a resource for individuals when they re-enter society and begin navigating the workforce, officials said.
"We're realizing we have to step outside the walls of our correctional facility to truly help people and make sure our services and the foundation we built for them is successful," Mendrick said.
In developing the vocational training programs, Beary said he targets industries that need workers and are willing to hire individuals with a record. But he also wants to ensure the jobs pay enough to help former inmates get back on their feet and offer growth opportunities to advance their careers in the future.
"Most of the people that are in here don't believe something like that is attainable to them," Beary said. "Once you say it is, for a lot of them, it's enough motivation to get out of the life they're in. It's not easy to do, but that's what makes all the difference in the world."
The sheriff's office and JUST for DuPage offer counseling services and recovery programs for substance use disorders, underlying mental health issues, violence management or family management, Mendrick said. Inmates can enroll in GED programs, English as a second language classes or even a horticulture program that produces food for local pantries, teaches life skills and now offers college credit.
The vocational training component is critical to rounding out the "continuum of care" for those who are incarcerated, Mendrick said.
"I can't count the number of correspondences I've gotten from people who have left the correctional facility saying, 'Thank you.' ... That's really what drives me -- seeing these programs succeed and grow," he said. "To have somebody step in and see the value in what we're doing and grant us money is very rewarding."
Each year, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity doles out nearly $135 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Labor to help local agencies provide job training and career services, according to a news release. The DuPage correctional facility's "innovative" vocational training is among several programs to receive the grant, state officials said.
The funding will cover the jail's next janitorial service class, which begins today.