Friday, December 17, 2010

Reentry Program

An article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about a program whose practice—mentioned in the last paragraph of the excerpt—teaches clients to take any job available to get a foothold in the employment world after prison.

This is a crucial strategy for all reentry programs, but unfortunately, too rarely used.

An excerpt.

“Henry Brown made mistakes, and he's worked doubly hard not to repeat them.

"I'm not going to bump my head in the same spot twice," said Brown, who served time on a drug conviction years ago and hasn't been back since.

"Being in those situations is not a vacation. It wasn't for me," he said. "I like my freedom and being able to go where I please."

“But with all of his efforts - even scoring at the top of his machine operation class - Brown has had a hard time finding a job.

“It's a scenario repeated time and again, as former inmates turned job applicants face the often stigmatizing effect of a criminal record made even more difficult during a tough economy.

"When they get out into the job market, a lot of them come up short. They get very frustrated, and that's where we come in to help," said Darryl Johnson, executive director of Riverworks Development Corp., which works one on one with former inmates in an effort to level the playing field.

"Many people have mentors who have guided them through their careers, but these are workers who haven't had that same opportunity," said Johnson, whose organization serves residents living in the Harambee and Riverwest neighborhoods.

“Along with huge doses of encouragement, the organization also provides free job training, employment counseling, work support strategies, coaching in financial literacy and other workforce development opportunities.

“This year, the organization received $40,000 from the United Way of Greater Milwaukee toward its job training and placement program.

"Studies show that people who have received additional, job-specific training make more money per hour than their counterparts," said Nicole Angresano, vice president of community impact with the United Way of Greater Milwaukee. "This program helps people develop the skills to gain and sustain employment and earn enough income to meet daily expenses and basic needs."

“Of the 254 people enrolled in employment counseling, at least 90% have been convicted of a felony at some point, said Vanessa M. White, the organization's director of workforce development.

“Building a work history after they've been away is crucial, even if they have to start at the bottom, she said.

"We teach them to take every little job," White said. "That means accepting some jobs they might feel are associated with a young person, but it is a steppingstone to learn how to deal with people and find out their strengths or weaknesses."