FARGO, ND (Valley News Live) – Change is coming soon to Cass County Jail and it aims to both educate and better support inmates in hopes of increasing security, reducing recidivism and invigorate the workforce.

The program is called REIGNITE, which stands for residential, individual enhancement and growth naturally and intentionally through education.

“We hope to create opportunities for our incarcerated population to use their time constructively and hopefully prepare them to return to our community motivated and equipped to succeed,” Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner said.

Officials say that for the program to be successful, they need the community to step up and volunteer your time to bring your trade or specialty to the prison and teach inmates.

“We need teachers and trainers to mobilize over time to provide their expertise; whether it’s plumbers, electricians, truckers, welders, farm workers, etc., we need them,” said former Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney.

“I look forward to the day when we have inmates debating responses to the work they are doing rather than what channel they are going to watch on TV,” said County Jail Administrator Capt. Andy Frobig. of Cass.

Frobig says there has been a shift in attitude for inmates at the prison over the past two years as COVID-19 shut down outside programs, and most have yet to restart. He and Sheriff Jahner say that because of this there have been more assaults and a higher level of unrest within the prison. Frobig also says that each year about 50% of inmates who pass through the prison are already well known to staff. REIGNITE aims to change that.

“If someone is getting training or education after incarceration, the chance of recidivism goes down 47% and if you think about that in any county jail, that’s significant,” Captain Jason Gould said. , administrator of the Genesee County Jail in Michigan.

The REIGNITE program is active in four other states, including Genesee County, Michigan, where Gould says that since the program began, his prison has seen in-prison assaults drop 96%.

“The floors, because they are under direct surveillance, were often very noisy. You couldn’t talk at a normal level inside the accommodation. Now when IGNITE is here you can hear a pin drop,” he said.

“By doing so, we can generate behavior change and we can break the cycle of criminal behavior. We can break down and demolish the revolving doors inside and outside the prison,” Laney said.

Sheriff Jahner says his office seeks to include educators, mental health counselors, as well as those in trades and special services. Jahner, Laney and Frobig say their goal of immersing the program in Cass County is to create a culture shift that will stop or slow the vicious cycle of inmates being released from prison, only to return weeks later with new charges.

“I refuse to be a warehouse for people. The REIGNITE concept in conjunction with all the other programs we have worked on in the past will allow us to not be a warehouse for people, but to give inmates the chance to succeed and have some hope of a better life upon their release from Cass County Jail,” Laney said.

There’s currently no official start date for the program, but Jahner says his office is already working on securing various community partnerships and encourages you to reach out if you’d like to help.

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