Genesee County Jail launches IGNITE program for inmates

FLINT — The Genesee County Jail is rolling out a new program to educate inmates and prepare them to carry on productive lives after incarceration.

During a June 24 press conference, Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson announced the launch of IGNITE, which stands for Inmate Growth Naturally and Intentionally Through Education. The program is aimed at teaching job skills and providing online courses for inmates while they are incarcerated at the county jail.

“We’re taking our incarceration model and turning it into an educational facility,” Swanson said. “It’s about giving (inmates) value. Value is restored through education, reading and teaching.”

Although it was first implemented in 2019, IGNITE had a few setbacks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But entering this summer, the program is back and up running.

Swanson said that the IGNITE program will provide beginner, intermediate and advanced studies. Inmates will have the opportunity to go take classes five days a week for two hours a day, accessing online courses with tablets provided by the jail.

Inmates can take online courses to earn credits toward a GED or to learn a skilled trade job.

“When people come into the jail, they go through a three-tiered system based on their stay and their charges,” Swanson said. “For example, let’s say we have an inmate enter for a six-month stay. Instead of having six months of doing nothing and trying to catch up with the world when they’re out, they’ll be able to place into a trade school or take online classes.

“When they go back into the world, they’ll have a skill set that we can link them up with,” Swanson added.

Swanson said that once inmates in the IGNITE program finish their jail stay, they will be connected to trades that they have shown an interest in, such as construction or pipefitting. Upon completing the IGNITE program, inmates will receive a certificate that they can present to trade unions and companies when applying for a job.

While IGNITE gives post-incarceration opportunities to inmates, Swanson said that the program is also intended to prevent people from becoming repeat offenders. He said that IGNITE will give inmates a purpose and personal value as they serve their jail sentences.

From an operational standpoint, Swanson said that it costs taxpayers $32 a day per inmate to keep the jail running. That translates to a cost of $18,560 a day if the jail reaches its capacity of 580 inmates.

Swanson said that the county will ultimately save money through the implementation of IGNITE, which he said will help to reduce the jail population.

“When people come here and go through IGNITE, they’re gonna leave and not come back,” Swanson said. “Fewer inmates means less of a strain on taxpayers and the county. That’s how we win as a society.”