Regional Jail Industries Program: Connecting the Dots between Mission and the Community

by Naomi Bonang, Industries Supervisor and Mark Westrum, Jail Administrator
Two Bridges Regional Jail

At Two Bridges Regional Jail (TBRJ) in Wiscasset, Maine, involving inmates in meaningful work activities provides many links between inmates and the overall agency mission, inmate education and other programs, as well as the community.

TBRJ is the only regional jail in Maine. In 2003 the Maine Legislature passed a law that created a regional jail authority to serve Lincoln and Sagadahoc Counties. Of Maine’s 16 counties, these two counties are smaller than 13 other counties, with county seats that are only 10 miles apart.

TBRJ is administered by a 12-member Board of Directors of the Multicounty Jail Authority.
Planning began in 2003, officials broke ground in 2005 and the 185-bed facility opened in 2006. Operations are guided by a Mission Statement:

Two Bridges Regional Jail Mission
The mission of the Two Bridges Regional Jail is to protect the public; to provide a safe, secure, and professional environment which embraces direct supervision principles in the management of detainees; and, through role-modeling and programs, to equip detainees with the means to live a productive and law-abiding lifestyle.

Officials planned for the expanded use of inmate labor from the beginning. The facility design provides several areas that may be used for a variety of work projects. A full-time Industries Manager, Naomi Bonang, was hired several months before the facility opened to ensure that work was fully integrated into programs and operations. She had over 20 years experience in the field of education, but was new to the field of corrections. She relied on guidance provided by other jail industries managers and resources that had been developed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), U.S. Department of Justice.

Naomi set out to develop the key policies that would form the foundation for the program. These “foundation decisions” were described in the BJA book, Developing a Jail Industry, A Workbook. The first step was to identify “stakeholders” in the community and invite them to join a jail industry advisory committee. Naomi noted that, “I was a department of ‘one’ so it was vital that I had input from area leaders as to how to make this a successful and long term endeavor that would be welcomed in the community for years to come.”

Twenty-two invitations were sent out to business people, the media, bankers, educators, and many other stakeholders. The response was positive from all stakeholder groups and the committee set out to lay the foundation for the jail industry program, starting with a mission statement:

Jail Industry Mission Statement
The Mission of the Two Bridges Regional Jail Industries Program is to further the goals of the Direct Supervision Model by encouraging inmates to use their skill to continue good behavior and reduce idleness while providing benefits to the inmate, facility, victims and the community.

The committee went on to set goals:

Short Term Goals
• Offer services to local municipalities/businesses
• Have a steady flow of projects
• Generate income in order to sustain and expand the program
• Have a “work skills” educational program to go hand in hand with vocational
industries program

Long term goals
• Have every inmate working in some capacity
• Develop a program that will take inmate from jail to job by partnering with
outside businesses

The advisory board agreed with the industries manager that the industries program should
have a training and education component. The board set a policy that inmates hired as workers must have their high school diploma or GED, or be working towards that goal. In this way, the industries program actually increased inmate participation in education programs.

The Board also wanted to explore taking steps that would help inmates be prepared for jobs in the community once they were released. One of the board members was the director at an area vocational school, who told the board about a program being offered at an area high school that taught skills needed in Marine Trades.

The following spring, the industries program secured a grant through Maine Community
Colleges for a Marine Trades Certificate Program. Instructors from the college spent six weeks at the jail teaching courses in Marine Hydraulics, Marine Diesel Repair and OSHA Safety. In addition to interested inmate workers, some inmates from the jail’s general population were also allowed to participate.

The industries program has proven to be a powerful management tool for the whole facility. Inmates must earn the right to be eligible for a paying job, through their good behavior and their participation in programs.

The TBRJ Industries Board decided that Community Service should be an important
component to the program. Consistent with the overall mission of the facility, the board
believed that when given the opportunity, most inmates are anxious to give something back to the community. In many instances community service projects also help inmates prepare for success after release.

One successful community services project, the inmate garden, donates thousands of pounds of produce to area food pantries each. With the help of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, inmate workers are taught about gardening, ecology, and protecting the environment. With the help of this partnership, next spring the industries program hopes to take on a project that will resurrect and maintain an apple orchard.

Most of the revenues generated from industries projects are used to implement community service projects. The advisory board has determined that community service projects help to keep inmates connected to society and are a vital part of a successful re-entry program.

Since its inception, the jail industries program has been involved with a variety of work projects, with clients that range from private businesses to non-profit organizations. In addition to the fulltime Industries Manager, other employees and volunteers provide services, ranging from inmate-worker supervision to inmate training. Staffing for the industries program is flexible, adapting to the changing mix of work projects.

A part-time retired Industrial Arts teacher currently works in the woodshop. This allows
inmates with no experience in woodworking to be hired by the program and to learn new
skills and work habits. For some, this may lead to a new vocation, for others it may be a new hobby that occupies their free time after release. Inmates fabricate and paint such items as birdhouses, whirly gigs, cutting boards, planters, jigsaw puzzles, jewelry boxes, novelty mirrors, Adirondack chairs, and cradles.

The wood shop program is a self-sustaining program with all revenues going back into the
program in order to purchase more materials.

Inmates are paid a small wage for their work, with a percentage going toward fines, restitution, and room and board. The program improves inmate workers’ self-esteem, keeps them busy and productive while in jail, and allows them to earn a little money.

Tourism is a major industry in the region and inmate-made wood items are sold through local shops as well as in the jail lobby. In 2010, 500 wooden toys were designed and fabricated in the wood shop and were donated to area “Santa Funds.” An innovative doll house was fabricated and then raffled, with the proceeds going to a heating oil fund for senior citizens.

In 2010 the jail industries program assumed responsibility for inmate commissary services. By operating the commissary in-house, rather than through a private contractor, net proceeds are returned to the facility and its programs. With more than $100,000 in sales annually, the commissary provides lots of work for inmates and generates net revenues that are used to fund programs and services.

With the help and guidance of the jail industries advisory board, the program has found a niche in the community and the region. The advisory board not only sets policy, but also identifies potential projects. The board also ensures that the industries program does not go into projects that might cause any hardship for businesses and citizens in the community.

Mark Westrum, TBRJ administrator, has served the region as a police officer, deputy, and sheriff over his 30-year career. Mark describes the industries program as, “A win-win proposition for all stakeholders. The program increases inmate participation in programs, occupies idle time, provides a management tool, involves inmates in productive and constructive activities, and contributes to the community in many ways.”