Jail inmates bake their way to successful reentry.

Author:Clayton, Susan L.
Position:CT FEATURE - Sweet Release Bakery Job Training Program
 
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Cakes, cookies, pastries, pies--the keys to success. This may not be the case for everyone, but it is for the inmates enrolled in the "Sweet Release" Bakery Job Training Program at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Clarksburg, Md. This culinary job training program, which began in 2003, aims to reduce recidivism of ex-offenders in Mary-land. It is designed to teach inmates how to obtain and keep a job in the baking/food service industry upon release.

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The three-month-long (40 hours per week) program focuses on hands-on commercial baking and sanitation skills, as well as the process of making positive changes to ensure successful reentry to the community. "If someone has a job, a way to earn a living, they may choose that rather than going back to a life of crime and coming back to jail," said Chris Johnson, bakery program manager. She adds that besides reducing recidivism, the goal of the program is to give hope for the future. "We help them realize that they can, in fact, do something besides be criminals. They have skills, and after three months of this program, it really builds a person. They come out different. They have a lot of self-confidence. They have hope for a new life for themselves and their families."

There are five formal goals of the program:

* Reduce the recidivism rate of inmates at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility;

* Obtain a job in the baking/food service industry for each program participant;

* Teach inmates in the program how to get and keep a job;

* Teach basic and advanced elements of baking production so that permanent, full-time employment is possible; and

* Provide the education necessary so that each graduate can pass a national sanitation exam and obtain a food service manager license.

Program Elements

Eligibility and admission to the program is based on the following:

* Sentencing has taken place and there are at least three months remaining on the sentence;

* Pre-screening and selection by counseling and correctional staff;

* Expressed interest in full-time employment;

* Interest in baking/food service as a career opportunity;

* Good record during incarceration (no violent behavior); and

* Ability to read at an eighth grade level.

Johnson receives about 40 applications every three months for which there are only six available spots. She conducts one-on-one interviews to narrow down applicants. Johnson tries to find the people who are serious about the work and who need the most support when they get out in the community. Ideally, she likes to...

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