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Inmates Learn Work, Event Coordination Skills at Tacoma’s Annual Ethnic Fest Celebration

August 6, 2015

By Rachel Thomson

DOC Communications

staff and inmates pick up trash at the festival

Staff and inmates picking up trash at the festival.

TACOMA — Though their group was small, inmate work crews made a big difference during Tacoma’s annual Ethnic Fest, held during the last weekend of July at Wright Park.

Three inmates from the Washington State Department of Corrections arrived at the park long before any of the crowds and stayed well past when the gates closed to help out with tasks. They set up booths and tents. They arranged tables and chairs. They gave visitors directions in the parking lot. They picked up litter and broke down booths at the end of each of day.

For the past 15 years, inmates have been serving as work crews at the annual festival, which celebrated its 29th year last month, according to DOC officials. Usually there are groups of up to 10 inmates, but this year there were only three, according to Community Corrections Supervisor Janet Francis. Despite the smaller group, Francis said the inmates made a big difference for event organizers while gaining some valuable work skills.

“They’re working with a lot of people,” Francis said. “Not only is it as fun atmosphere for them, but they gain interpersonal skills and when they’re done, they have self-worth and self-value.”

She added the inmates also learn how to collaborate with people who may have differing personalities, and how completing their individual tasks can make an event run more smoothly.

The DOC has a contact with Tacoma Metro Parks that allows for inmates who are on community supervision to assist with the event, according to Sharon Kisel, a corrections officer with the department who supervises inmates at the event. In order for inmates to work the event, they must be on community supervision and must not be a convicted sex inmate.