Plywood fire hurts inmate transition effort
By Brent Curtis
staff writer | September 03,2014
Even the state Department of Corrections is experiencing loss in the wake of the fire that destroyed Rutland Plywood.
The plant in Rutland Town employed 170 people — some of them former inmates or individuals on supervised release under furlough, said Keith Tallon, Rutland district manager for Probation and Parole.
“It really is a tremendous loss for the community and for us,” Tallon said.
At the time of the fire, 15 of the 66 people on furlough in and around Rutland were employed at the plant, and those employees were just a portion of the inmates who worked in any given year at the plant, Tallon said.
“They were our biggest and most consistent employment partner in the county,” he said. “They did an excellent job at giving opportunities to offenders trying to make a new start. They were probably the only ones who we could consistently make referrals to with confidence even with short-term notice, and no other business has that kind of immediate capacity.”
The plywood plant was such a big part of the blueprint for moving inmates back into society — employment and housing are requirements for inmates who have completed their minimum sentences and are eligible for release on furlough — that the company’s human resources manager, Teresa Miele, was recruited to be a founding member of a new offender re-entry board designed to dramatically reduce recidivism rates.
“They’re really good at what they do and Teresa is staying on our board,” Tallon said. “She’s been a real asset to what we’ve been trying to accomplish.”
Miele has also been a long-time member of Project VISION — a network of law enforcement, local government agencies, social service groups and businesses devoted to reducing crime and drug use in the city and improving residents’ quality of life.
Rutland Police Chief James Baker said Tuesday that the loss of the plywood plant would be felt most profoundly in Project VISION’s efforts at trying to reform inmates who need stability and steady work while reintroducing themselves to the community.
“It’s less of a consequence for us than it is for the folks at Probation,” Baker said, referring to Tallon, whose agency is one of the many state offices with representation in Project VISION.
“It’s going to have an effect on the options available for transitioning inmates back into the community,” Baker said. “(Rutland Plywood) took risks on people who a lot of employers would not take risks on.”
For her part, Miele said, she plans to continue serving on the offender re-entry board and in Project VISION.
“We may have no physical building or workforce, but we want to continue to do our part to help the community,” she said.
And as the chairwoman of the Rutland Region Workforce Investment Board and a former specialist at Rutland Mental Health Services working to help people with challenging mental illnesses find jobs, Miele said she wants to work toward filling the void left by the loss of Rutland Plywood. She wants to recruit other employers to take on more inmates released on furlough.
“There are untapped resources for helping people get employment and someone needs to help represent these workers that are often seen as being difficult to employ,” she said.