Jun 3, 2013

Center for Nu Leadership Hosts Discussion on Workforce Development for the Formerly Incarcerated

“We all benefit when people returning home from prison are given the opportunity to work” was the theme of a citywide civic forum hosted by the Center for Nu Leadership to address systemic and societal barriers that hinder former offenders from finding employment.
For the hundreds of thousands of Americans returning home from incarceration each year having a job is essential to reclaiming status as responsible citizens in the community. Stable employment allows individuals to provide for themselves and their families, to reestablish a positive identity among family members and other supportive networks, and to be optimistic about their futures. Yet, factors such as civil penalties that automatically attach upon conviction and widespread negative perceptions about the formerly incarcerated prevent many from finding stable employment. Panelists proposed several solutions and highlighted numerous reforms that are currently in action to help persons returning home realize their goals of gainful employment.
Message for the Formerly Incarcerated--Get Your RAP Sheet Reviewed
Many employees perform criminal background checks on prospective employees as part of the hiring process. With increasing frequency landlords, training programs, and educational institutions are also incorporating background checks into the pre-screening process. By having your Record of Arrests and Prosecution (RAP sheet) reviewed you can correct mistakes before they become a problem. RAP sheets are often incomplete or contain errors. Common errors include incorrect entries, duplicate entries, false open warrants, and failure to seal confidential information.
Having your record reviewed before you apply for a job or license allows you to take control of your narrative. Knowing exactly what is on your record places you in a better position to spot mistakes on your background check and to correct an employer’s misunderstanding about your record. Additionally, reviewing your record places you in a better position to craft your story in a manner that highlights your strengths and rehabilitation as opposed to your past mistakes.
New Approaches to Delivering Justice
Traditionally, the focus of parole and probation has been solely on compliance—making sure that individuals under their supervision show up to their appointments and stay out of trouble. In recent years, however, criminal justice practitioners have begun to ask new questions about the most effective ways to advance public safety goals and, the implications of these new approaches on the management of men and women returning home from prison.
“It is about more than compliance, it is about preparing individuals for reintegration into communities remarked parole official, Dr. Vanda Seward. “Reentry is a process that begins when an individual enters prison and we have not completed our job until the individual successfully reenters the community. We know from experience that work helps to reduce recidivism.”
A steady income is not only necessary to provide for basic needs, such as food and housing, but also to help keep individuals out of trouble. Work structures a substantial portion of an individual’s time around gainful, pro-social activity, leaving less time to associate with former pro-criminal peers and other negative influences.
However, in order for communities to reap the benefits of ex-offender employment criminal justice agencies have to be realistic about the demands of the job market. “If clients are eligible for jobs that extend into the late night hours then maybe we need to consider letting up on curfews. There are many good quality jobs that require individuals to have a driving license,we should give people permission to get a driving license if their past offense is not related to driving" argued Dr. Seward.
On a powerful ending note she stressed the importance of staying true to the mission of community supervision agencies. “We are not in the business of punishing folks. We are here to improve public safety and provide the services people need to successfully complete their sentence in the community.”