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Genesee County, Michigan, Sheriff Chris Swanson is working hard to help communities across the U.S. battle high recidivism rates through a program aimed at inmate education, while also applauding President Biden after his recent commitment to support law enforcement.
Swanson, who famously marched alongside protestors in the summer of 2020 in the aftermath of a police officer’s murder of George Floyd, told Fox News Digital in an interview the U.S. does love law enforcement, but it must earn respect.
“[T]he country does love and respect law enforcement. But it’s our job every day and every sheriff’s office and every police department to show them why.
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“But I will tell you, we got punched in the face, and it was deserved because we need to always check what we’re doing. We have a great mighty sword that we wield as law enforcement. And when you have that much authority and that much autonomy, it has to be respected more than anything else.”
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, the phrase “defund the police” not only became a rallying cry but served as a litmus test separating moderates from the progressive left, and now Biden is trying to unify members of his own Democratic Party on the topic.
Swanson praised Biden for stating his administration’s commitment to supporting police after the president’s remarks at his first State of the Union address earlier this month.
“We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police,” Biden said. “The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities.”
Swanson liked what he heard.
“As a police officer and what we’ve lived through and what we believe in — what we do — it was the best quote of the night,” he told Fox News Digital.
In September 2020, the sheriff launched the IGNITE program, which stands for Inmate Growth Naturally & Intentionally Through Education and is aimed at reducing recidivism and crime in communities.
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The program is focused on “education and value,” which Swanson says are the key drivers to reducing crime and violence.
“When you give people the ability to set for themselves to work hard and you educate, they don’t break the law. They don’t drink as much. They don’t cause as much trauma,” Swanson explained.
In 2020 after George Floyd’s death, Swanson said members of the community were distrustful of law enforcement and kept asking him, “What are you going to do?”
Swanson would reply with, “I’m going to change jail populations, and we’re going to educate people. We’re going to turn from incarceration to education.”
Out of that commitment to his community, the IGNITE program was born. In the more than two years since it was launched, the program has reached over 140,000 teaching hours with nearly 2,000 inmates enrolled.
Some inmates, who entered prison with “nothing” have received GEDs and college degrees, a feat Swanson is particularly proud of.
In addition, math testing assessments for enrolled inmates have revealed enrolled inmates’ math skills have gone up a full grade and reading comprehension up a grade and a half.
“We are transforming lives,” said Swanson. “Why not make it constructive while they’re there?”
There’s roughly a “40% reduction of recidivism for post-incarceration education,” Swanson said, citing a RAND Corporation study from 2016.
Swanson said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., has been instrumental in helping the IGNITE program secure bipartisan federal funding.
In the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package passed by the House and Senate this week, the congressman secured $768,000 for Genesee County, including the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office and the Genesee County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
The funds will go toward “a collaborative partnership to create the Genesee County Justice Partnership for Reform to help reduce criminal justice costs, reduce recidivism and build a stronger local economy by helping formerly incarcerated individuals secure jobs,” according to a press release from Kildee.
“With the IGNITE program Sheriff Swanson is giving Michiganders who have paid their debt to society a second chance at life through educational and career opportunities,” Kildee, the chief deputy whip of the House Democratic Caucus, told Fox News Digital in a statement.
“I am proud to support this incredible program, and I commend Sheriff Swanson for his visionary work to decrease recidivism and make our community safer.”
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As longtime friends, the congressman plans to continue working hand in hand with Swanson and his team to positively change inmates’ lives and better the community.