Program turns criminals into productive members of society

ESCANABA — Delta County has been instrumental in breaking ground on reducing re-offenders in the criminal justice system within the U.P. And now their innovative ideas have created a new program that will give convicts the chance to turn their life around.

“This program has looked at the criminal offender with a negative mark on their history a little bit different and said we’re going to look at your future instead of just looking at your past,” said Delta County Prosecutor, Phillip Strom.

‘Handcuffs to Hardhats’ is Delta County’s newest program aimed at reducing recidivism in the criminal justice system. The post-sentencing program gives ex-convicts who have demonstrated long-term sobriety and have complied with their terms of their probation a new chance at life with a career in a trades field, turning them into productive members of society. People with criminal convictions on their record typically experience difficulty in obtaining employment, which can cause them to re-offend.

“One thing that seems to cause people to reoffend sometimes is if they can’t find work,” Strom said. “They go back to that told lifestyle they’re used to living so if we can help them get a job, and pull themselves out of a bad situation, they would be less likely to reoffend. We think employment is one thing that can helpful for reducing recidivism.”

Individuals eligible for the program are being taken from the drug court population and are not violent offenders, though program coordinators do understand it can be a potential concern for the community.

“That’s why we’re trying to take a very slow and methodical approach about it,” Strom said. “We’re trying to really identify people who have shown high motivation to change, long-term sobriety, compliance with probation. We’re hopeful that that’s going to be the right group to make these referrals because it’s our opinion that they’ll be the most successful in the workforce.”

“These people are our neighbors already – we’re not importing dangerous criminals or anything like that from other places,” said Lucas Bradshaw with the local Steelworkers Union. “These are people that are in our community right now, that are down on their luck, maybe made some bad choices. As of right now, they’re being let out back into the streets, back into the same group of friends, the same job and the same opportunity they had before which will lead to the same result.”

‘Handcuffs to Hardhats’ has had its first successful referral into the program, who has signed on to be an apprentice with a local carpenter, and Bradshaw is very hopeful.

“We know in the construction industry that when you walk away at the end of the day, and you turn around and look back at what you built, you have a sense of accomplishment that I think is needed when people are going through rehabilitation and trying to break a bad habit that they can see at the end of the day that they walked away and did something meaningful today,” Bradshaw said.

The program does lend a hand to the criminal justice system in that it helps decrease re-offenders and reduce jail overcrowding, but it helps the community on a larger level by letting the individual support their family and lowering unemployment and crime rates.

“Anything that we can do to make the U.P. a better, safer, healthier place to live, that’s what our goal is,” Strom said.