Community Collaboration as a Tool to Support Job Retention

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Community Collaboration as a Tool to Support Job Retention
By  Carol Tortarelli,  CCM, OWDS, GCDF, Director, Mission Programs, Prison Rehabilitative Industries & Diversified Enterprises, PRIDE, Florida

Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE) of Florida has transformed its decades-old job placement service for its former inmate workers into a comprehensive Transition Program.

PRIDE has long recognized the importance of employment after release. Studies show that it is crucial to successful and sustained reintegration of the former inmate into the free community. PRIDE’s Transition Program provides a full range of services designed to help returning workers find meaningful employment. Training certificates earned in the industry are valuable credentials to present to employers as part of the job application process.

PRIDE Dinner

Jim Reeves, PRIDE’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, (right) recognizes an
ex-offender at the PRIDE hosted Transition Program Recognition Dinner

Upon release from incarceration, ex-offenders formerly trained by PRIDE that meet certain program criteria, gain full access to the PRIDE Transition Team in St. Petersburg. The Transition Team, part of the Mission Programs Department, acts as job developer, mentor, and advocate for each program participant.

The goal for each participant is full-time sustainable employment with benefits and the opportunity for advancement. In the course of seeking employment opportunities, there may be other unmet needs that can be addressed by the Transition Team. Obstacles to sustained employment and successful community integration can include a lack of transportation, housing, clothing, physical and mental health concerns, as well as missing documentation necessary to secure a Florida ID or Social Security card. The Transition team partners with community and faith-based organizations to better leverage additional resources that provide maximum benefit to program participants.

The PRIDE central office is located in the Tampa Bay area where the greatest number of inmates released from Florida state prisons return. Concerned about the impact of such a large number of ex-offenders on community safety and the budgetary impact of the demand for social services on local communities, a coalition of concerned citizens and community service providers was formed. Led by the Office of the State Attorney – Middle District of Florida, the Hillsborough Ex-Offender Re-Entry Network (HERN) was created. Based on its reputation as a job placement agency for its ex-offender population, PRIDE was asked to become an active member of the consortium. The network has five objectives to promote the successful re-entry of offenders into the community:

1. To advocate for the recognition and understanding of the necessary services required to facilitate the successful re-entry of ex-offenders into the community

2. To educate other professionals about the needs of formerly incarcerated individuals so they can better coordinate and provide services to this unique population

3. To provide leadership in ensuring that the County has an adequate system of support to meet the needs of the ex-offender population

4. To ensure the coalition has on-going understanding of the changing issues and needs of the formerly incarcerated by serving as a repository for current trends and best practices in the area of re-entry

5. To ensure that the coalition has the needed competencies and capacity to achieve its work

The Transition Management Council meets bi-monthly and is open to all program participants

Membership in the consortium has enabled PRIDE to leverage its resources to meet the needs of its returning inmate work force. Post-release needs assessments identify the areas of concern in finding and maintaining employment, and by extension, the risk to recidivate. Intensive case management by PRIDE Transition Specialists connects Transition Program participants with providers in the community, HERN, who are prepared to provide additional manpower and services to ensure successful integration into the community. Network members include State probation and parole, and faith and community based organizations which can assist with referrals or direct services to include housing, clothes, substance abuse treatment, transportation, tools, medical and psychological assistance, food stamps, and a myriad of other services designed to meet individual needs.

Local law enforcement has taken a leadership role in addressing the issue of ex-offenders returning to their community. The sheriff’s office donated space and provided staff to man a “portal of entry” for released offenders returning to the county. Inmates returning to the county are relocated to a nearby correctional institution and upon release are bused by the Department of Corrections to the portal, the Hillsborough Re-Entry Center, H-REC. HERN members meet with ex-offenders at the center to provide referrals and arrange for services. When a former correctional industries program participant arrives at the portal, a PRIDE Transition Specialist is there to greet him and enroll him in the Transition Program.

Job retention is a very important factor in reducing recidivism. Additional activities designed to promote job retention include the establishment of a Transition Management Council which meets bi-monthly and is open to all program participants. The objective of the council is to reduce recidivism by providing a forum where participants can exchange information among themselves, staff, and community service providers to affect positive changes in behavior. In this manner situations can be addressed which could have a negative impact upon successful community integration and job retention.

Each year PRIDE hosts a Transition Program Recognition Dinner to which successful program participants are invited. Also recognized for their contributions to the ex-offenders’ success are employers who have hired them, the community service providers who have met their needs, and state and local law enforcement, and community corrections.

Correctional Industries working in collaboration with the community can have a positive outcome for program participants upon their release. 86.5% of PRIDE inmate workers released in 2008 did not return to prison for the commission of a new crime within two years of release. 70% were retained in their jobs for one year.