Job club can help put those in reentry on path to employment

iStock_000023019685_SmallA job club is an excellent way to help those coming out of prison or jail as they embark on a path to employment. These clubs meet regularly, offering members a chance to discuss the challenges they face in their job search and hold each other accountable.

Job clubs can be particularly beneficial for those in reentry. Few may know this better than Sue Eastman, who developed a job club for that population for SE Works, a Portland, Ore., nonprofit that deals with workforce development. As Portland’s only workforce center serving those in reentry, the organization gets a lot of foot traffic, including people from a local halfway house.

Eastman’s organization’s job club meets four times per week, and members must come to at least two of the meetings. Between 10 and 30 people show up at each one, which lasts from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Employers also come to the meetings on occasion to talk about job searching and do mock interviews. Such nearby businesses as a new store may also come to hire employees.

What makes it different

Eastman started the job club two years ago and says, “It’s not that different from other job clubs, except for  learning to deal with “the box.” (the box on application forms asking if the applicant has ever been convicted). But actually it is different in many ways.

Those who have been locked up for long periods may not be proficient with such technology as computers and cell phones that is essential for many jobs, for example.

Eastman had inherited a curriculum, but it was old and referred to people as ex-felons. “I try to get people to not look backward but to look forward,” she says. “You can’t call them ex-felons. Call them job seekers.”

Although she has moved to a new position, Eastman still sometimes leads SE Works’ job club. At the beginning of each meeting she asks them what they need from her that day and let’s them make the decision about what to discuss.

The most difficult thing they need to learn is not how to fill out the forms or even talk about their backgrounds but how to talk the language of the employer. If you can’t talk the language of the employer, the employer can’t relate to you, she says.

Ten tips for a better job club experience

Easton offers 10 tips for job club members and their professional instructor leaders:

  1. Ask them to do a Google search on themselves, then post some really nice pictures of themselves on Flikr. That way when someone tags them those really nice photos will appear on the first page and the mug shot will come out on the second page.
  2. Have an instructor who is knowledgeable enough to drop what they intended to do and do something else. Also the instructor shouldn’t throw too much at the job club members. They have so much going on in their lives.
  3. Do “a week in the life of” and let them sit down and figure out what else they have to do that week and where the job search fits in. It you tell them it takes 40 hours a week they’re going to lose it.
  4. Once they get a survival or transition job, don’t push them to go to the next step too quickly. They often fear that if they have to move on they won’t make it. Life is like Simon Says. Take two giant steps forward, three baby steps backward, and they will eventually get to the other side.
  5. Make collages. Many of them are visual people. Tell them now that they have a job and their first paycheck to cut out pictures of what happens when they have that job. They can open a bank account, maybe buy a car, get some medical taken care of.
  6. Play games like Job Search Jeopardy with fake money. Say “I’ll take resumes for 200.” They have a great time, learn something and get little prizes.
  7. Make sure to put their past where it belongs. If someone was convicted 20 years ago, they’re not the same person they were. Don’t let their past define them. They’re not a bank robber today.
  8. Use the rearview mirror and the front windshield of a car exercise. Tell them to write everything about who they are on that rear view mirror. Put it away because they’re not going to look at the past anymore. They never have a chance to make a new beginning, but they can make a new end.
  9. Then give them a windshield and tell them to write down everything they see ahead. That’s their new beginning. You’re in a wretched car and it needs new tires. Then we get the bumper on. You drive down a road and it’s a dead end and you have to turn around and come back. Everybody has that ability to move forward, but you have to learn how to do it.
  10. Play red flag. Write all barriers to employment except criminal background on the red flags. Then post these on a board and figure out what you can do to overcome them.

It’s all about learning to be a job seeker.

Check with your local American Job Center to see if they have a job club for those in reentry or know of one in the area where you live.

 

Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Exoffenders.net creates free WordPress tutorial

unnamedTo develop a skill that is in high demand and that can result in paid employment would solve one major problem many formerly incarcerated people face after leaving jail or prison.

Erik (who prefers not to reveal his last name for privacy reasons) is taking the exoffenders.net website he created to help ex-felons search for a job one step further. He’s putting together a set of lessons to teach people how to build websites using WordPress.

His story is not unique. He got into drugs at age 17 and became a convicted felon by age 20. A year before his prison term was up he was transferred to a community reentry program with a supportive staff, which he said changed his life.

After leaving prison and moving to Ohio, Erik couldn’t find any but the lowest level work at Wendy’s. The “box” got in the way, and hiring managers couldn’t look beyond the fact that he was an ex-felon.

But that challenge nurtured his entrepreneurial spirit, and he became a freelance web developer to help support himself. He hopes to help other ex-offenders learn to support themselves in the same way, since website development is a skill that can pay a decent wage. “It’s a field where your experience is more important than your background,” Erik says.

It’s not only a great skill to be able to do as a job, but it can also help anyone who is putting together a small business create and maintain their own website for free.

The lessons are both in written and video form, with the information very clearly explained so most people will be able to create a WordPress site by following the tutorials. Erik now has two lessons up on exoffenders.net and will add more soon, creating enough information for someone to be able to build their own website.

“After that, the lessons will cover other things that people need to know about, like hosting, search engine optimization, marketing, building backlinks and getting into ways of monetizing it (the website),” he says.

Erik is hoping to establish a broader curriculum, drawing in other people with complementary skills. He’s lined up someone to teach a class in how to make money online and is looking for volunteers to create more courses.

The ultimate goal, he says, “is to have a better life. I can’t really force people to take the classes. I can’t hold their hand, but I can try my best to teach them skills that they can take into the job market.”

 

Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Jails to Jobs writes how-to-create-a-tattoo-removal-clinic manual

nd_yag_mini_laser_tattoo_removal_machine_nd-506We were contacted not too long ago by a representative from Dr. Tattoff, a tattoo removal clinic chain, informing us that the company is opening a new clinic and is interested in removing tattoos of certain people free of charge, if those tattoos are preventing them from getting a job.

This clinic’s desire to offer pro bono tattoo removals supports our belief that there are many companies, nonprofits and individual doctors, nurses and tattoo artists out there who see a great need for this type of service and want to provide it.

In fact, we know the need is there. Our directory of free and low-cost tattoo removal clinics, which we launched last spring on our webste, along with the blog articles we’ve written about tattoo removal, get far and away the greatest number of hits of any subject we have ever written about. And they get many hits on a daily basis.

Our directory has more than 140 clinics in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Although more than 40% are in California, we’re hearing from people across the country about what they’re doing and that they want to be included in the directory. We are confident as time goes by more and more programs throughout the U.S. will be added to our directory.

Because there is such an interest in this subject, we have decided to write a manual on how to set up a free or low cost tattoo removal clinic or program. We’re hoping it will serve as a resource for anyone who might be interested in setting up such a program. Many of the people we’ve talked to as we do our research and write the case studies that will be included in this manual have told us that they are happy to talk to anyone who would like to start a program similar to theirs.

The case studies in the manual include everything from nonprofits working to keep youth out of gangs and city government gang intervention programs to a Seventh Day Adventist Church that previously had a program in Los Angeles and a small San Francisco suburb that includes tattoo removal as part of a job readiness program.

We hope that this manual will help connect organizations working in isolation and organizations just getting going to share information about the successes they’ve achieved and the challenges they face.

Although currently a work in progress, the manual will include:

  • A history of tattoo removal
  • The science behind the laser process and what makes it work.
  • Statistics on people who have tattoos and what others (including employers) think of them
  • Barriers that exist for people with visible tattoos
  • The process of getting tattoos removed
  • What questions patients and potential patients might ask
  • Manufacturers of tattoo removal laser devices and what they produce
  • Success stories from those who have had their tattoos removed
  • Tattoo removal laser device rental companies
  • Laser tattoo removal schools
  • Professional associations
  • Case studies of free and low-cost tattoo removal programs
  • Where to search for funding to start a clinic
  • Ideas of other services, such as resume writing and job readiness skills assistance, that can be included as part of the program
  • An online forum offering a community to share best practices and ideas and ask questions

If you know anybody who might want to contribute information to the manual or be the subject of one of our case studies, please contact us at info@jailstojobs.org.

 

Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

A New Way of Life serves as model program for women in reentry

susan_burton

Susan Burton

Fifteen years ago, when Susan Burton began her work helping women who were leaving prison, she would pick them up where the bus left them off in south Los Angeles and take them home with her. People would throw rocks at her house.

Today they bring flowers and supplies that the women need to get back on their feet. And Burton’s organization, A New Way of Life, manages five transitional houses, which served 62 women and 23 children last year. It also runs a legal clinic and leadership training programs that reach hundreds more.

As someone who was in and out of the criminal justice system for two decades herself, Burton well understands her clients’ situations and how to help them.

“A New Way of Life has been a first chance for them not a second chance. They came from families and environments where they never had a chance,” she says. “They survived trauma after trauma and have responded so well to opportunity. It’s like the thirst being quenched.” And what she does seems to work. The recidivism rate for those in the program is just 20 percent.

Women stay in her homes from nine days to 18 months, depending on their needs. “The main requirement is that people want to change their lives and they’re willing to take care of themselves, bathe themselves and be medication compliant,” Burton says.

Although her staff works with residents on resumes, A New Way of Life deals more with the basics of providing a place to stay and working to reunite women with their children and refers women to other organizations that can help them find jobs.

Legal clinic helps clients expunge conviction records

Through a partnership with UCLA School of Law’s Critical Race Studies Program, ANWOL’s Reentry Legal Clinic deals with one very real barrier to employment – criminal records. Two staff attorneys and another 10 or so volunteer attorneys and  other community volunteers run the monthly clinic. They help about 400 men and women each year expunge their conviction records and make sure their employment rights are not being violated.

Although A New Way of Life deals with most of the practical needs of women in reentry, Burton wants to create a dialogue so that her clients and others understand what has happened to them within a broader context.

To do this, she created the LEAD (Leadership, Education, Action and Dialogue) Project, a program in which women who live in her houses meet biweekly to discuss issues related to incarceration and the prison industrial complex.

“Many times our residents think that what happens to them is acceptable. They deserved to be locked up,” she says. “The LEAD Project opens their mind to see what can make things different.“

Another group that she created, Women Organizing for Justice Leadership Training Institute, is an intensive four-month program that brings 30 formerly incarcerated women together twice monthly. Participants develop leadership skills, learn about community organizing and take a critical look at the criminal justice system.

Through all these efforts, Burton has made a substantial impact helping women navigate their post-release reentry. “The most important thing that needs to happen is that they have a place where they can feel a part of community. Where they feel like they’re valued. And from there, it’s just making one accomplishment and overcoming one barrier after the other,” she says.

Those interested in staying in one of Susan’s homes can apply online.

 

Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Project Rebound helps formerly incarcerated get college education

rebound_homeLack of an education is one of a multitude of barriers that those coming out of jail or prison face. A college degree may seemingly be out of reach for many ex-offenders, but not those who participate in San Francisco State University’s Project Rebound. This innovative program has a long history and a bright future as a blueprint for similar endeavors elsewhere. It was founded in 1967 by John Irwin, who, after a five year stint at Soledad Prison, went to college, earned a PhD and became a noted sociologist and San Francisco State professor. He also saw the need to create a means of helping other ex-offenders get  — or complete — an education post-release. With the vision of turning former prisoners to scholars, Project Rebound, now part of Associated Students Inc., the student government organization, has helped hundreds of formerly incarcerated people earn four-year degrees. In the past eight years alone, since current Executive Director Jason Bell took over, more than 100 people have graduated from San Francisco State and more than 300 have been admitted as part of the program. Getting into San Francisco State is not easy for many applicants, but it can be especially difficult for those just out of prison, since they may have a lot of gaps in their educational experience. To help them, Project Rebound acts as part of a special admissions program. “They have admissions assigned to special caseloads,” Bell says. “We do additional advocacy for our students, just like is done for athletes and international students. Sometimes, if the person is outright denied at first, we can fight for them.”  In fact, that happens quite a lot, he adds. He and his staff of four – all formerly incarcerated themselves — recruit potential students by visiting local jails and prisons like San Quentin, where they talk to inmates and distribute fliers. The program has become so well known that Bell says they get letters from every prison in California and also from some out of state, since California is sending some of its prisoners to out-of-state facilities in the name of population reduction. Sometimes Bell’s staff corresponds with prisoners for years before they get out, helping them prepare the way for their future education. “Many of them can go straight into San Francisco State within months, or within the same year, of getting out,” he says. Once the program participants are admitted to S.F. State, they get special assistance with such things as lunches and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) passes, as well as $200 for books, all thanks to grants from such outside funders as the Columbia Foundation and the Registry Foudation. S.F. State student interns – 40 in the second semester of 2013 – work one-on-one with Project Rebound students to help them navigate the system when they’re new and connect them with tutors and other services to help them succeed. Although due to a lack of resources, the program does not offer any job placement, but Bell says that recently he’s been getting emails from ex-offender friendly employers who are interested in allowing people a fair chance at employment. Over its nearly half century of existence, Project Rebound has changed the lives of more people than it can count. And it will achieve an even wider reach by assisting other colleges that want to launch similar programs. Bell and his team helped New Jersey’s Rutgers University establish a program about five years ago, and are working with Cal State University Fullerton and San Diego State University on a similar effort to help formerly incarcerated individuals in southern California get a college education. For more information contact:

Project Rebound
Associated Students Inc.
Cesar Chavez Student Center
1650 Holloway Avenue, T-138
San Francisco, CA 94132-1722
(415) 405-0954, FAX: (415) 338-0522
E-mail: projectrebound@asi.sfsu.edu
Web: http://asi.sfsu.edu/asi/programs/proj_rebound/about.html
 

Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

As a job seeker with a criminal record, you are not alone

iStock_000002144669_SmallThe high rate of incarceration among American men may give some degree of consolation to ex-offender job seekers. In fact, you can use this fact to reassure potential employers that your situation is not really all that unusual.

According to a study by criminal justice and criminology professors from four universities published this month in the journal Crime & Delinquency, by age 18, about 26 percent of Hispanic males, 30 percent of black males and 22 percent of white males have been arrested for something other than a minor traffic violation. By age 23, the figure rises to 44 percent of Hispanic males, 49 percent of black males and 38 percent of white males.

Females have a much lower arrest rate. By age 18, 12 percent of Hispanic, black and white females have been arrested at least once. By age 23, the statistics increase to 16 percent for Hispanic females, 18 percent for black females and 20 percent for white females.

The study did not rely on arrest records. Rather it used self-reported arrest history data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, conducted by the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The project began to interview a representative sample of 9,000 youth in 1997 on a variety of subjects that included education, employment, relationships and lifestyle issues and followed the group with annual interviews through 2008.

Well, some of you might ask, “How can I use this information, since I was first arrested when I was older than 23?” Many people are surprised to learn that one in four adult Americans – about 65 million people – has an arrest or conviction that will show up in a routine criminal background check. That translates to a tremendous number of potential job seekers and employees.

The arrest records of those in the survey and the percentage of the population as a whole with a criminal record prove that indeed, you are not alone. And you can use this information to show potential employers that there are many others like you and that they should give you a chance to prove yourself at a job.

And they won’t be doing anything all that abnormal or unusual. A Harris International survey of 2,298 U.S. hiring mangers and human resource professionals conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder in 2012 found that 51 percent of those surveyed reported that their organizations have at one time hired someone with a criminal record.

The best way to bring up the subject may be during your turnaround talk, a technique created by Larry Robbin, a nationally known expert in the area of workforce development. The turnaround talk is a chance for you to tell your story to the person interviewing you and turn their attitude around to seeing you as the capable and unique person you are.

You might want to start out by saying something like, “Before we start (or before we go any further), I have something I’d like to talk to you about. I, like many other men (or women) my age, have been arrested. In fact, by the age of 23 ….. (site statistics above). Or say,You might be surprised to learn that one out of four American adults has a criminal record.”

After this introduction, continue to briefly talk about the crime you committed and what you learned from the experience and to assure them that it won’t happen again. You also will want to stress how you’ve turned your life around since you committed whatever crime you were arrested for.

Be sure to talk about any classes you took or activities you participated in while incarcerated, jobs you held either inside prison or after you were released, volunteer work you might have done and whatever 12-step programs you might have participated in if you have a substance-abuse problem. Each of these can be good indications to the hiring manager of your rehabilitation and eagerness for a fresh start.

To further press your turnaround case you should also prepare a turnaround packet.  This should include such items as certificates from training courses you completed, letters of reference, photos of volunteer activities you have participated in, hobbies you might have like gardening or car restoration, and several reference letters.

The turnaround packet, together with the turnaround talk, will go a long way to convince any potential employer that you’re serious about starting a new life and are a good candidate for whatever job you’re applying for.

 

Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Get help cleaning up your record for free at the Papillon Foundation

SecondChanceA criminal arrest or conviction record can be the biggest impediment to getting gainful employment, and the two-year-old Papillon Foundation is determined to help teach those who have one how to get it expunged.

And if the number of hits the foundation’s website gets – between 300 and 500 per day – is any indication, there are a lot of people out there who want to learn how to do it. In fact, when former lawyer Alan Courtney – who founded the Creston Calif.-headquartered foundation with his wife, Nina – was in prison for white-collar crime, he found it was a serious concern among his fellow inmates.

“When I was in county jail and in prison this was like the number one thing that Inmates would talk about. It was that when they got out they could not get a job because of their criminal record. They couldn’t get a job, they couldn’t get housing, and they were worried,” Courtney says.

He realized that there’s a desperate need for this type of information, and when released in 2010 decided to do something about it. Courtney and his wife began collecting information in all 50 States, the District of Columbia and American Territories on how each state handles expungement in order to build their website.

It took about a year to get their nonprofit status, and now the couple supplies self-help information so that ex-offenders can apply for their own expungements, or if they need help – an average of about four per day do – the Courtneys will assist them.

The first step in that help is sending a standard email that explains how to use the website, since it’s designed for do-it-your-selfers.

The Courtneys ask the people who can’t make it work to send them their rap sheet. “Without the rap sheet we really can’t help them, because a lot of times they think they know what they were charged with, but it turns out to be something else,” he says.

“We also find lots and lots of mistakes on these rap sheets, and the rap sheet is what the courts go on, so what really happened doesn’t matter. Nine times out of ten there’s something strange on the rap sheet. Very rarely does it comply with exactly what they (the ex-offender) think it should be.”

In looking at who requests information, Courtney found an interesting phenomenon. “We get 75 percent of our inquiries from women, but women are less than 10 percent of the prison population,” he says. These women are not just doing it for themselves but for their sons, their brothers and their boyfriends.

While expunging records is not easy anywhere, there are several states where it is  particularly difficult, if not impossible.  According to Courtney, in New Mexico and Alaska there is no expungement at all, and New York only allows expungement of arrest records, not conviction records. Indiana recently changed its laws to allow expungements, and Oklahoma works on a county-by-county basis. Ex-offenders there must file in civil court in roughly half of the state’s counties and in criminal court in the other half.

The whole process is quite complicated, but the Papillon Foundation makes it a bit easier by offering a wide range of information that includes links to forms, articles, how-to guides, organizations and free legal resources for each state. For those seeking expungement, the website is an exceptionally helpful source.

Contact the Papillon Foundation through its website at http://www.papillonfoundation.org, by phone at 805-712-3378 or by mail at:

The Papillon Foundation, P.O. Box 338, Creston, CA 93432-0338

 

Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Circle of Support program helps ensure success of those in reentry

Photo courtesy of Madison Area Urban Ministry.

Photo courtesy of Madison Area Urban Ministry.

Few programs can claim the success rate of the Madison Area Urban Ministry’s Circle of Support, but then there aren’t too many other programs like it.

Sponsored by the Madison (Wis.) Area Urban Ministry – an interfaith social justice organization that deals with a wide range of social issues – Circle of Support is an innovative program that offers a circle of volunteers who meet on a weekly basis with a person in reentry. These volunteers welcome people home from prison and provide a support network to make sure that they successfully readjust to life on the outside and get the help they need.

During its decade of existence, the program has shown remarkable results. The recidivism rate of those who go through it is only 7 percent.

What’s the secret of its success?

According to John Givens, who has run the program for the past four years, it’s commitment – on both the part of the people getting out of prison and the people who volunteer to support them.

The program actually begins pre-release, when Givens goes into the two facilities he works with, the Oakhill Correctional Institution in Oregon, Wis., and the Oregon Farm, and makes a presentation to people who are within six to nine months of going back to Dane County (where Madison is located).

“We work with them to look at the way they will be living when they get out,” Givens says. “We use RESTTE, or resident, employment, support, transportation, and treatment and added education in there as well. Those are areas we feel a person needs assistance with.”

At the same time that he’s recruiting inmates, Givens is also going out into the community to churches, faith-based groups and the University of Wisconsin to recruit volunteers, of which he needs quite a few. MUM has 13 groups going now and each has four to six volunteers, as well as what is referred to as the core circle member, or the person recently released from prison.

Both the volunteers and the core member must make a six-month commitment, and those volunteers who haven’t participated in the program before must go through a six-hour volunteer training that teaches them about the criminal justice system and how to deal with any problems that may come up.

Support not fixing

“We’re not trying to fix people,” Givens says. “We’re not in the fixing business. We’re supporting them physically and emotionally.” And that support begins the day the person walks out of prison. Givens helps them get temporary housing, clothing and medication, if they need it.

Then the circle gets involved, meeting with the core member every week for an hour and a half. At each meeting, the core member establishes reachable goals to achieve during the coming week and discusses what they’ve done to achieve the goals they set the previous week. These goals could be writing a resume or finding housing. By the end of the evening, the core member may have five or six goals to work on for the next week.

According to Givens, many of the volunteers do the circles over and over again. “We have one group of men from a church that have had 11 circles, “ he says. “Many people are in it for the long haul, and if they’ve had success they become committed. Most of them say, ‘Our six months are up, what do you have now?’”

And the commitment displayed by the core team members? The 7 percent recidivism rate speaks for itself.

Givens is happy to talk to anyone who might be thinking about starting a Circle of Support-type program of their own. He can be reached at the Madison Area Urban Ministry by calling 608-256-0906.

 

Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Reauthorization of Second Chance Act can help reduce recidivism

U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) (above) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have introduced legislation to reauthorize the Second Chance Act.

U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) (above) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have introduced legislation to reauthorize the Second Chance Act.

In an effort that shows tremendous bipartisan support, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced legislation last month to reauthorize the Second Chance Act. An identical bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.)

The act, originally passed into law in 2008, supports state and local reentry programs that reduce recidivism. The introduction of the current bill – S. 1690/H.S. 3465 – comes at a time when the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering ways to reduce prison costs for federal, state and local governments. The Second Chance Act intends to help lower those costs by improving prisoner reentry efforts and ultimately decreasing the number of repeat offenders.

“Rather than incarcerating repeat offenders in the same families generation after generation, we can put our taxpayer dollars to better use to break this vicious cycle and turn lives around,” said Portman, a former prosecutor.  “The ultimate goal of our criminal justice system is to make our families and our communities safer. The work done under the Second Chance Act helps us to accomplish that goal, one life at a time.”

Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2013 provisions

The Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2013 reauthorizes the law for five more years. Key provisions include:

  • Providing support for planning and implementation of key reentry projects to ensure that those projects use methods proven through testing and review to lead to meaningful reductions in recidivism rates.
  • Offering grant funding for creative job training programs.
  • Expanding eligible applicants for several programs to include nonprofit organizations.

Emphasizing results-oriented outcomes, the bill gives priority consideration to applicants that conduct individualized post-release employment planning, demonstrate connections to employers within the local community, or track and monitor employment outcomes.

In reintroducing the Second Chance Act, Senator Leahy reaffirmed his belief in its goals. “Investing in community-based reentry programs prevents crime, reduces prison costs, improves public safety and saves taxpayer dollars.  It is also the right thing to do,” he said.

“This important legislation improves federal reentry policy and funds collaborations between state and local corrections agencies, nonprofits, educational institutions, service providers and families to ensure that former offenders have the resources and support they need to become contributing members of the community. “

If reauthorized, the act will continue to build on its success. Thanks to this legislation, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office of Juvenile Justice was able to fund more than 100 grants that totaled more than $62 million during the current fiscal year. And since it was passed five years ago, it has awarded more than 600 grants to government agencies and nonprofit groups.

These grants support improved probation, parole and reentry programs throughout the U.S. and include mental health and substance abuse treatment initiatives, technology career training programs and juvenile reentry efforts.

Second Chance Act success stories

Some of these programs funded by grants under the Second Chance Act offer examples of what they can accomplish:

  1. Harlem Parole Reentry Court – This project under the auspices of the Center for Court Innovation of the New York City Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator is geared to those who are of medium to high risk of reoffending. It works with case managers, judges and others to develop an individualized reentry plan stressing employment, and the program’s participants have higher employment rates than their peers who aren’t enrolled.
  2. Project Reconnect – This program, operated by the Girls Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma, helps incarcerated women who will be returning to Tulsa upon release maintain contact with their 5- to 18-year-old children. It does this by bringing those children for bi-weekly visits with their mothers and on the weeks in between offers parenting classes to the women and educational instruction to their children.
  3. Wisconsin Tribal Community Reintegration Program – The Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, together with the state’s Department of Corrections, has created this program to provide culturally relevant social services focusing on employment, substance abuse and legal issues. It serves American Indians who are deemed to be of medium to high risk of reoffending and will be returning to one of Wisconsin’s three Indian nations – the Oneida, Menominee or Stockbridge-Munsee.

What you can do

Reauthorizing this act is expected to continue to make profound and positive improvements in neighborhoods across the nation and in the lives of those in reentry who live there.

Contact your senators and Congress members and encourage them to cosponsor S. 1690/H.R. 3465, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2013.

 

Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Dave’s Killer Bread founder’s arrest highlights challenges

logoonblackOn the night of Thursday, Nov. 13, Dave Dahl, co-founder of Dave’s Killer Bread, was arrested after ramming three Washington, Ore., County deputy patrol cars. He was released a day later on $20,000 bail, and his attorney told local Portland area press that Dahl was having a mental health crisis.

A former felon, Dahl has received wide local, as well as national, attention for the success he has achieved in recent years.

After being released from his last prison sentence – he was incarcerated four times for a total of 15 years for drug possession, assault and burglary – Dahl rejoined his family’s baking business and developed Dave’s Killer Bread.

With a tagline, “Just Say No to Bread on Drugs,” the bread has developed a near cult following in places where it is sold. These now include most major retails stores in Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Hawaii and Nevada and select stores in Wyoming, South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

Dahl has been an inspiration for legions of ex-offenders and those who work with them, not only because of the successful business he created but also because of his hiring practices.

His company responds

In a memo sent to employees on the day after Dave’s arrest, company CEO John Tucker wrote, “We are a passionate group who want to bake the world’s best breads, and also want to make the world a better place one loaf of bread at a time ….. This company is about courage and redemption. It is truly part of our heritage. Nearly 30% of our employees have served time in prison and today are making a better life for themselves and their families.”

Dave reportedly suffers from bouts of depression, but whether his condition is entirely personal or is the result of repercussions from his life behind bars, he’s not alone. Many ex-offenders share a similar situation, and suffer from mental issues brought on by their prison experience.

Surprising few studies have been done – or at least have been publicized – concerning the health conditions of inmates, but the National Commission on Correctional Health Care conducted a three-year national study –which as far as we know is the largest of its type ever undertaken – in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The final report, “The Health Status of Soon-to-be-released Inmates: A Report to Congress,” was delivered to Congress in May 2002 by the National Institute of Justice.

The study found that many inmates suffered mental challenges, but the actual statistics, as far as percentage of the inmate population suffering from mental illness, is not that much different than the U.S. population as a whole. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 26 percent of American adults, age 18 and over, suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder.

In state prisons, the numbers reflecting soon-to-be-released inmates are:

  • 22% to 30% suffered from anxiety disorder.
  • 13% to 19% suffered from major depression.
  • 8% to 14% suffered from dysthymia.
  • 6% to 12% had post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 2% to 5% suffered from bipolar disorder.
  • 2% to 4% suffered from schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder.

Although the study was conducted more than a decade ago, it would be hard to believe that the situation has improved much.

Will this incident spoil the Killer Bread brand?

While press reports have speculated that this incident could damage the Dave’s Killer Bread brand, it certainly won’t with us. We’re huge fans of both Dave and his bread. As CEO Tucker said in the memo, “We know that this team – our DKB family – has the strength and resolve to continue baking bold breads that families can be proud to buy.”

And we hope they continue their efforts not only to produce some of the most nutritious and delicious commercial bread on the market today but also to serve as a role model for helping those in reentry get employment and get back on their feet.

 

Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.