Serving a community while serving a sentenceThe Institution Community Work Crew (ICWC) program is a two-pronged enterprise: It benefits communities while helping inmates transition back into normal life. Since being founded in 1998, ICWC has provided more than 400 inmates with the opportunity to work in communities for low wages.
By: Leah Stinson, Echo Press Intern, Alexandria Echo Press
The Institution Community Work Crew (ICWC) program is a two-pronged enterprise: It benefits communities while helping inmates transition back into normal life.
Since being founded in 1998, ICWC has provided more than 400 inmates with the opportunity to work in communities for low wages.
ICWC is similar to the program Sentencing to Service, which allows county level offenders to serve the community instead of serving time. ICWC consists of state prison inmates and serves as a transition for inmates who are nearing the end of their sentence from prison life to community life.
In Douglas County, the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) and West Central Communities Action (WCCA) have collaborated to make this program a success.
In fact, inmates are currently renovating Douglas County Services building. Their projects include installing sheet rock and working alongside local plumbers and electricians.
Not just any inmate can participate in the ICWC program, however.
Inmates who wish to be involved in the program first have to meet a set of minimum requirements.
Inmates must be in minimum security; a history of escape attempts can’t exist; the inmate must not have any type of chemical dependency; the inmates cannot be sex offenders.
If minimum requirements are met, the inmate is able to apply for the program.
If selected, the inmate is then sent to a nearby county. The DOC wanted to ensure the inmates were in an area they would consider living once they’ve served their sentence, yet far enough from their original county as to not be faced with people they knew in the past.
And finally, the inmate is allowed to work. For a wage between $1 and $1.50 per hour, inmates work alongside local plumbers, electricians and construction workers.
“It gives them a second chance,” said Ron Solheid, regional manager for the community services division of the DOC.
The cooperation with local workers allows inmates to meet and form relationships with employers in the area, which often results in a job once out of prison.
“I’m always surprised by how many people they know in the community,” said Steve Nagle, director of WCCA.
Other opportunities present themselves with the conclusion of a working inmate’s sentence. The federal and state government match any wages the inmate has earned three-to-one to go toward a post-secondary education.
The relationships extend beyond local employers, as well.
Local churches have welcomed inmates at worship services and other community events.
“It’s a very caring, giving community,” said Randy Froemming, jail programmer in Douglas County.
Inmates even reach out to younger generations.
Some inmates have volunteered to speak at elementary schools about their life stories: Where they began, what they did, the repercussions and why they wouldn’t do it again.
Froemming noted, “Prison is not glamorous.” This is the message many inmates are trying to instill in children.
Not only does the ICWC program facilitate the transition from prison to freedom, it assists the impoverished residents of the community.
ICWC spent the majority of its first 12 years working in the housing market. They were able to provide low-cost housing to those with modest incomes.
“We wanted to develop a program for affordable housing,” said Solheid. “They’ve really done a lot of work, essentially for the county.”
Most years bring in an average of eight to 10 houses. One particularly prolific year resulted in 17 houses constructed in the county.
The program is good news for those who don’t reap the benefits of the construction, as well.
“The whole program is self-sustaining and self-sufficient,” Solheid said. In other words, the program is not costing taxpayers any money.
Although the inmates are anxious to complete their sentence, they still enjoy the work they’re doing now.
“I love it,” said David, an inmate currently working in Douglas County.
David plans on pursuing a career in construction once his sentence is served.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities for guys who want to stay in the area,” David remarked.
The inmates defy the stereotypical image most harbor of prison inmates. They offer friendly smiles and utter very few complaints; they cooperate and crack jokes with each other.
The ICWC program plans to continue its work in Douglas County, with the goal of getting inmates back on their feet while benefitting the community.