Genesee County sheriff hopes I.G.N.I.T.E. program reduces jail population

The purpose of the new program is allowing inmates the opportunity to learn while behind bars, in an effort to prevent them from returning to jail once they’re out.
Published: Sep. 8, 2020 at 5:00 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - (9/8/2020) - “We are transforming the incarceration model into education. We’re breaking the chains of generational incarceration, starting right here in Genesee County,” Sheriff Chris Swanson said, announcing the I.G.N.I.T.E. program Tuesday.

That stands for Inmate Growth Naturally and Intentionally Through Education.

Swanson was surrounded Tuesday by the people who supported his idea and made it possible -- his staff, the GISD, University of Michigan Football Coach Jim Harbaugh, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and multiple community members.

“When I didn’t feel valued, when I didn’t feel like I had nothing to offer, when I felt that my world defined who I was, that’s when my progress stopped,” he added.

The Sheriff said I.G.N.I.T.E. is intended to give the inmates a purpose and make them feel valued.

How does it work?

Each person is evaluated for their education level and skill set.

While behind bars, they’ll use laptops twice a day to attend class, whether that’s to obtain their GED, gaining college credits or learning a skilled trade.

Another option of Virtual Reality will be used to teach welding, plumbing, electrical, carpentry and other life skills, like switching a light bulb.

Once their time is served, the Sheriff said each inmate will be connected with an employer.

“There’s not any excuse for bad behavior but when you don’t know, when you don’t have opportunities, you resort to whatever you do know,” Flint resident, Jaylyn Boone said.

He met the Sheriff earlier this summer. Boone said the two both spoke at a rally in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Boone explained they had a tough conversation about what was happening. The Sheriff told him this program was in the works.

Boone was grateful to see the Sheriff’s promise fulfilled Tuesday.

“I’m going to continue to ensure that it’s carried out. I’m going to do my part to add any curriculum that I need to; and, I plan to mentor some of these inmates to ensure that they do integrate back to society as law abiding citizens,” Boone said.

Percy Glove and Johnell Allen-Bey also attended Tuesday’s launch. Both men now run Nation Outside, a resource for formerly incarcerated people, like themselves.

“I initially met Mr. Swanson 27 years ago as an inmate here at the Genesee County Jail. I could almost cry right now; because after 12 years in prison and coming back to the community, I was lost,” he said.

But Glover eventually enrolled at Mott Community College, furthering his education, which he said helped him turn his life around.

“I also was developing a support system. So Sheriff Swanson is developing all that ‘Day One’ for people when they walk into the Genesee County Jail. And when they walk out, they’ll have a lot of tools in their toolbox,” Glover explained.

He called this program a new start not just for the inmates, but the community, too.

“This right here brings the attention that, you know, that we understand now where change needs to happen. You know, this is one piece that hopefully spills over to everything else that’s going on across America,” he said.

Having devoted their lives to helping the formerly incarcerated, Glover and Allen-Bay have been inside the jail several times since they served their time.

Allen-Bey has spent years tutoring inmates working to obtain their GED, but said he always wondered what was next for those individuals.

“When they start talking about a vocational and being able to give them skills that they can come home and utilize, and actually be working within a week or so after them, I’m like hey man that’s a no-brainer. I have to support that,” Allen-Bey said.

The two are hopeful through education, the I.G.N.I.T.E. program will create opportunities, minimizing the chance the inmates will return.

“That felony gets smaller with education,” Allen-Bey said. “The more education you get, the smaller it shrinks; and so, people say okay Johnell, they’re looking at me as Johnell, not 201634.”

Value, purpose and the second chance I.G.N.I.T.E. is intended to provide.

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