In a classroom with bars on the windows and views of the razor wire that surrounds the Detroit Reentry Center, inmate Mathew Hernandez is learning how to remove asbestos and lead-based paint safely, skills he hopes will land him a construction job when he’s released. “I want to be a legitimate citizen. I want to … actually be an asset to the community, instead of a leech,” said Hernandez, 33, the Detroit Free Press reports. With a 76 percent unemployment rate among newly released prisoners, Detroit is using a $4.5-million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to prepare inmates for jobs in environmental work, culinary arts, and fork-lift operation. Mayor Mike Duggan says, “We went and looked at where employers were hiring right now.”
The city began offering the behind-bars training last October. When Duggan visited the Detroit Reentry Center last year, he said an inmate told him it was the first time he had received job training, and he wished he hadn’t gone to prison to get it. “If Detroit’s comeback is going to be successful, we need everybody’s talents and this is a way to make sure we use the talents of people who have paid their debt,” Duggan said.