Unique Minnesota partnership ensures improvement is in the ‘works’
Itasca County Probation’s Wood Works program offers youth and adult offenders a second chance
The Wood Works program is no stranger to Minnesota’s Itasca County—and it’s no Paul Bunyan lumberjack tale, either.
For more than 20 years, the Itasca County Probation Department has provided its customers with reasonably-priced heating materials—but the community benefit goes both ways.
It enlists the help of juvenile and adult offenders to ring up their community service hours, with local student engineers also contributing to the program’s success.
“The program serves as a swift consequence to get criminal offenders back on track,” says Jason Anderson, director of Itasca County Probation Department.
“But there’s of course the mutual benefit that their work contributes to a valuable business.”
Using the helping hands of former offenders creates efficiency for the program, while teaching valuable work skills. In 2018, over 180 participated in the Wood Works program—a combined total of over 4,000 community service hours.
Historically, wood has been sourced from a narrow radius of trees in Itasca County due to strict regulations around tree cutting. That is, until the invention of the kiln, eliminating the threat of transporting invasive beetle species and thus changing how far wood can travel across states.
“The rules change drastically for the better when the wood is put through a kiln,” says Anderson. “It can legally travel further and has an environmental benefit as well.”
But kilns aren’t cheap, which is where the student engineers of Itasca Community College come in.
Itasca County Probation Department formed a two-year partnership with engineering students to build a kiln that the county could give to a contractor as part of the students course work. Next year, junior engineers will calibrate the kiln and create a user manual while ensuring the burning machine is operational.
Enbridge is committed to improving the quality of life in the areas near our operations and projects, including the Line 3 Replacement Project across norther Minnesota. Our $2,000 donation supported this multifaceted community project and helped purchase the kiln for Itasca County Probation Department.
It’s tough to say who benefits more from this arrangement between engineer students, criminal offenders or wood purchasers. Though Anderson works in probation, he can be proud of the residual benefits felt by the community.
“Our purpose is to be a community work service site for offenders, and our goal is to always remain cost-neutral,” he says.
Once the Itasca kiln is in operation, the department will be able to sell its products to gas stations and other geographically widespread locations.
As for the offenders, Anderson says he calls Wood Works somewhat of a springboard program, which he credits with building skills and reversing habits. It’s not uncommon for the program’s crew foreman to be an employment reference for former participants.
“In many cases, this program is why our participants regain employment after serving time,” he says.
(TOP PHOTO: The Itasca County Probation Department's Wood Works program produces both home heating firewood and campfire bundles for the general public and regional resorts and campgrounds.)
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