After completing the program, graduates can apply for a job with the Michigan Department of Corrections and, if hired, will begin the 16-week MDOC corrections officer academy. Courtesy MDOC
A new program will provide a greater number of job seekers in the Montcalm and Ionia county areas with the education and technical training needed to become a corrections officer.
The program is a partnership between West Michigan Works!, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), Montcalm Community College (MCC) and adult education providers in Montcalm and Ionia counties. It is funded by a one-year state grant that ends August 2020.
Adults who do not have a high school diploma or equivalent can enroll and get their general education development (GED) credential while also earning credits toward a criminal justice certificate.
Holly Kramer, MDOC communications representative, said the state is facing a significant shortage of corrections officers, and this program is one way to help.
“There was a big hiring boom in the ’80s, and now we’re losing about 50 officers a month to retirement,” she said.
“We have nearly 200 open positions in West Michigan currently, and this new program will help us fill some of those positions since it is focused on that region. We have approximately 700 openings statewide.
“This program widens the pipeline so more individuals interested in working in corrections can meet qualifications that could lead them to a career with the MDOC.”
Participants will attend Montcalm Community College on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday to earn criminal justice credits in the Our Michigan Corrections Officer Training Program.
Amy Eady, dean of occupations and program assessment at MCC, said the program has five classes, and one class is held at a time for three weeks, for a total of 15 weeks.
The required classes are Introduction to Corrections; Corrections, Institutions and Facilities; Communication and Criminal Justice; American Criminal Law; and Client Relations in Corrections — client being a more “respectful” term than inmate, Eady said.
An additional evening at an adult education location will be designated for GED or high school completion test preparation, including improving math and reading skills. Participating adult education locations include Central Montcalm Adult Education, Belding Adult Education and Portland Adult Education.
Applicants must be at least 18 years of age and will be pre-screened by West Michigan Works! with a background check and drug screening.
MCC's 2018 job placement rate for those who completed criminal justice coursework to become corrections officers was 100% among those who responded to a survey by the college.
Interested individuals can call (616) 389-8521 to learn more or to enroll in the program.
The deadline for program registration is Aug. 16.
In addition to recruiting participants and administering the state grant to cover tuition and fees — which MCC said adds up to about $150 per credit hour — West Michigan Works! will provide workforce preparation activities and support services through the partnership.
Olivia Blomstrom, West Michigan Works! business solutions representative, said only participants who lack a high school diploma or GED are eligible for the program. To ensure they succeed, West Michigan Works! will connect them with career coaches.
“We help navigate these individuals through what are your current barriers, how can we help you overcome those barriers to make you a successful student and make you successful in this program,” Blomstrom said.
Although there is no hiring guarantee following the program, she said West Michigan Works! will continue to support program graduates after they have earned their certificate of completion with services they need, such as résumé building and workforce readiness workshops.
Blomstrom said West Michigan Works! is starting with a “very modest” goal of recruiting enough participants to fill one classroom of 15-20 students at MCC.
“There is such a need for this, but filling their classes every year has been a struggle,” she said.
Kramer said the MDOC recently changed its education requirements, so instead of applicants needing to complete 15 credit hours before applying, they can do some of the learning on the job.
“Now, we’re allowing officers to obtain those 15 college credits within their first 18 months of unemployment with us,” she said. “Individuals (in the program) will be able to not only qualify by earning their GED, but they’ll also be able to start work on the front end on those college credits.”
After completing the program, graduates can apply to MDOC and, if hired, will begin the 16-week MDOC corrections officer academy.
Candidates must pass a fitness test as one of the conditions for MDOC employment; it requires 13 sit-ups completed in 30 seconds, 17 pushups in 60 seconds and walking up and down steps continuously for six minutes — a gauntlet participants are informed of during the education program, according to Eady.
The MDOC corrections officer academy includes eight weeks of classroom instruction, along with eight weeks of on-the-job training where new employees pair with veteran corrections officers.
New recruits become MDOC employees as soon as they begin training. Pay starts at $17.67 an hour.
On the job
Recognizing that the field of corrections can involve physical and psychological risks, Kramer said the department is working to improve its support for employees.
“We just started a new employee wellness unit, and that’s going to offer confidential support to any MDOC employee who needs it,” she said. “We’re also going to have a peer support program that’s in the process of being formed now and a staff chaplaincy program.”
Kramer said she believes the partnership with West Michigan Works! and MCC will provide valuable opportunities for many people.
“This is just another way that we’re trying to think outside the box to get more people qualified for jobs in corrections. It’s really a great career,” she said. “There’s good benefits and plenty of room for advancement in such a large department.”