Partnering to Assist Former Offenders
By Anna M. Aragon
The perception that ex-offenders are the government’s problem has long been a fallacy. We all need to work together to transition former offenders back into society successfully. There is no longer a stereotypical offender. They are our neighbors, bosses, co-workers and very often our relatives. While most of the information below comes from my own state of Colorado, I highly encourage others to review information for their own state as well as nationwide programs. You may be amazed at the statistics.
One out of four individuals in the state of Colorado has a criminal background from misdemeanors to felonies.
The average yearly cost to house an offender in prison in Colorado is $28,759 to $60,000 (dependent on services needed.)
An average of 900 individuals each month are being released into the community from prison with few resources to support them. They struggle to succeed and create a life outside of incarceration.
It is not surprising that the same services needed while incarcerated, such as training for a vocation as well as mental health and substance abuse therapy, are needed upon release. Nationally almost 50% of offenders reported having no GED or diploma and 55% to 65% reported being unemployed before incarceration.
Funneling these individuals straight into aftercare programs through community, non-profit, and faith-based organizations is proving to help with recidivism. Services needed by our general population are also needed by the ex-offender including: housing, clothing, training, jobs and social services for mental health, addictions, and disabilities.
Pre-Release Government Help
Realizing the importance of education and training, the Department of Corrections in Colorado started offering vocational programs, apprenticeships, and industrial programs in 24 out of the 30 state and private prisons. Using the Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R) Assessment, facilities are determining what types of services are needed by the offender immediately upon incarceration to assist in determining facility assignment. Included are pre-employment programs and various life skills training, which too often are at the crux of their issues before incarceration.
While partnering among community based, non-profit, and faith based organizations in Colorado has long been successful, in the last 10 years partnering with government entities to provide needed funding has allowed community based organizations to provide specialized and appropriate services for this at-risk group. The end result is greater self-sufficiency and lower recidivism. Serving ex-offenders in structured performance based programs with clearly designed goals, eligibility requirements, established duration period, well defined participation requirements, database tracking, and follow-up after the first year creates opportunities for clients’ long term success.
Examples of successful partnering using the Colorado model described above show positive results.
From 2008 through 2011, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment in collaboration with a community nonprofit provided multiple services to ex-offenders utilizing funding from the federal government. The cost of serving one offender with employment readiness training, case management for interview coaching, career design plan, appropriate job leads, assessment, training, professional clothing for interviews and work, haircuts, food and transportation was $300 to $600 depending on the services needed. When on-the-job-training was recommended by a case manager, a paid internship was provided with a salary up to $3,000.00.
In 2010, a government grant and community partnership, primarily for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients with about two-thirds being ex-offenders, resulted in 60 individuals being served at a total of $3,000 each for support services and paid internships.
Both of these programs, through a partnership of community and government entities, were deemed a huge success exceeding all benchmarks such as employment placement, retention, recidivism, and high hourly salaries.
The employers hiring in these programs utilized both the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Federal Bonding Program. Both of these programs have huge incentives. In addition, the clients were taught how to “sell” these incentives and to download the forms for the employers.
A huge plus for using this program model is that community agencies can effectively cut government spending. Agencies are used to sticking to tight budgets while serving the clientele well. Next, the community itself would flourish as a result of funneling monies into a partnership program rather than exclusively using funding from large government departments that are unfamiliar with serving ex-offenders. Most clients like the “safe and non-threatening” environments they find in smaller community organizations and will be more likely to consistently follow through on performance.
Employment counselors can be successfully trained to work with re-entry programs. Working in collaboration with community agencies and/or government departments can provide enough reasonable funding to equip individuals for self-sufficiency without further need of government services. Equally important is aftercare services with dedicated well-trained staff in a caring, compassionate, respectful environment.
Anna Aragon, Employment Ready Program Director,has over 25 years of experience in human resources, office administration, management and operations, in both corporate and nonprofit. Anna recently completed coursework certification as a Global Career Development Facilitator. She has been with DenverWorks for twelve years providing client management, training, job development and program oversight. Anna is a Denver native, resides in the community she serves, and is fluently bilingual in Spanish. She can be reached at email@example.com