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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - "It's been enjoyable," said Bobbi-Jo Hodgdon of the work she's been doing for the past several days. "It's a great opportunity."
Hodgdon has been part of a painting crew during the day, giving the distinctive red color to a newly-built barn in Burlington, Vt. Hodgdon spends her nights in a prison cell at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, following convictions for extortion and custodial interference, according to the Vt. Corrections Dept. "Being in jail obviously isn't enjoyable, but when you get to be part of a project like this where people appreciate it, it kind of gives it reason, I guess," Hodgdon said.
Hodgdon is part of a job readiness program that teams the Vt. Corrections Dept. with the non-profit Vermont Works for Women. "They start to think of themselves as successful and achievers, rather than just failures," said Rachel Jolly of Vermont Works for Women.
Jolly said counselors back at the facility work with the inmates on career exploration, crafting resumes, and building interview skills. The group working on the barn this week, who all have convictions for non-violent offenses, also took part in training to prepare them for trades, including lead paint removal.
Hodgdon said she hopes the sense of teamwork she's been developing will transfer to a different area when she's released in December. "I really want to do something with culinary," Hodgdon told New England Cable News.
Vermont's only facility housing female inmates is also its most expensive to run, according to numbers provided by the Vt. Corrections Dept. The department cited numbers from fiscal year 2012, which showed a total expenditure of $12,344,525 on the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. Spread out over an average daily population of 155, the department said, the cost worked out to about $80,000 per year per inmate to the taxpayers of Vermont.
Cullen Bullard, the director of classification and facility designation for the Vt. Corrections Dept., told NECN in an email that women tend to enter the system with more severe histories of trauma, requiring more intense medical attention. Bullard also wrote that because the South Burlington facility is smaller, it "requires a higher per capita cost caused by infrastructure costs which cannot be distributed over larger populations."
So the logic of the partnership with Vermont Works for Women goes, if inmates get a career boost setting them up for a positive life after prison, they'll be less likely to re-offend. That means a more secure community and cost savings for the state. "It's a win-win-win," Jolly said. "It's good for the women, for the state [budget], and for all of us, after their release, as their future neighbors."
Another win here is the barn improvement for the other partner in the project: the non-profit Intervale Center. The group promotes sustainable, healthy, local food systems. "If we can find ways to partner with others in the community to meet our mutual goals, then I think Vermont's a better place for that," said Travis Marcotte, the executive director of the Intervale Center.
Inmate Mary Howard told NECN she, too, is better for having taken part in this program. "I'm 44-years-old and haven't gotten my GED yet," Howard said. "I've been working on that since I got here."
After serving time for shoplifting, trespassing, escape from furlough, possession of stolen property, and other charges she said all started with drug abuse, Howard said she is due to be released in two weeks. She added that she wants to stay clean, take college classes, and return to her full-time job as a head housekeeper for a Rutland County inn. "I have big plans," Howard said, smiling. "Hopefully I can follow through with them."
The barn work may have helped plant a seed, but it's up to the women to make sure the concepts learned from Vermont Works for Women grow into a steady job; into a brighter future. Participants in this short-term program also take part in the correctional facility’s work crew, which earns them a day off their sentence for each day of laboring in the community.