Job-readiness training program at the Wayne County Jail prepares offenders for success.
Most offenders complete their sentences and .are released back into the community. Forty percent of currently sentenced inmates will be released within the next year and 95 percent of all inmates will be released sometime in the future. Released inmates who are employed or are receiving employment services from community organizations are substantially less likely to recidivate compared with those who are unemployed and receiving no such services. (2) Considering the present high rate of recidivism (ranging from 60 percent to 80 percent), it makes sense to offer job-readiness services to inmates and Wayne County, N.Y., did just that by implementing the Job Readiness Training Program in the Wayne County Jail.
Located between Rochester and Syracuse, Wayne County is rural with nearly 100,000 residents. The Wayne County Jail is a 155-bed facility housing male and female offenders. As with other jails, the inmate population includes:
* Individuals pending arraignment and awaiting trial, conviction or sentencing;
* Individuals who are probation, parole, and bail-bond violators and absconders;
* Inmates sentenced to terms of less than one year; and
* Inmates awaiting transfer to state or federal facilities.
Most of the crimes reported in Wayne County are for property-related offenses (e.g., burglary, larceny and automobile theft). More than two-thirds of arrests in the county are for misdemeanor charges. The incarceration conviction rate is slightly more than 31 percent. In 2000, the Wayne County Jail housed a total of 556 sentenced and 1,383 unsentenced inmates. Ninety percent of sentenced inmates had terms of no more than six months. Also that year, 124 inmates at the county jail completed a questionnaire indicating the services they would like offered; 67 percent listed job training/career counseling. At that time, limited programs, services and materials about employment and training were available to inmates. Unfortunately, many inmates were released back into the community with little knowledge about available community resources in areas of employment and training. Further, many inmates left jail lacking access to proper identification, such as a picture ID, Social Security card and birth certificate, wit hout a resume and other job-seeking tools, and with limited knowledge about the local labor market.
Workforce Investment Act
Signed into law in August 1998 and fully implemented on July 1, 2000, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) represents the first major reform in the nation's job training system in 15 years. Some key reform principles of WIA are as follows:
* Universal access to services -- everyone is entitled to receive basic services to help him or her become employed or retain employment.
* Adoption of a one-stop service center where customers can receive employment-based services. Job-seeker services include individual counseling, assessment and career planning, short-term prevocational services and group counseling on how to better manage and market careers.
Under the major tenets of WIA, incarcerated individuals should also have access to services from their local one-stop career center. In fact, the National Institute of Corrections, sponsor of the nationally recognized Offender Employment Specialist Training, advocates for local one-stop career centers to become active collaborators in the provision of employment services to inmates.
The Wayne County Workforce Development (the local one-stop center) designed, planned, implemented, modified and evaluated a job-readiness program for inmates at the county jail.
Job Readiness Training Program
The Wayne County Job Readiness Training Program (JRT) is a series of workshops designed to help inmates become better-prepared for employment. Each session addresses a different topic related to employment or training. The program was initially geared toward individuals who were active in the GED class. Male and female inmates have separate GED classes scheduled Monday through Friday, for two hours each day. All male minors at the county jail, regardless of whether they have their high school diploma or GED, are mandated to attend GED class, while male adult inmates have the option. Conversely, female minors are only required to participate if they do not have their GED or high school diploma. At any given time, the GED class has between 10 and 20 male minors and five to 15 male adults. The number of participants in the females' GED class ranges between five and eight.
Initially, JRT was voluntary to anyone in the GED class. Both minor and adult males with or without their GED or high school diploma participated. Later, participation became mandatory for all minor males with a GED or high school diploma. Female offenders choose whether to participate in the program, with most deciding to do so.
Ten to 15 male and five to eight female inmates participate in the work-readiness program every week. To date, 27 women and 44 men have been active in the sessions. JRT is a series of six sessions held in weekly 1.5-hour intervals. Topics for each session are as follows:
* Session 1: Goal planning and the meaning of work
* Session 2: The explorational education and training options, and identifying community resources
* Session 3: The importance of job applications and resumes
* Session 4: The development of resumes
* Session 5: Job search strategies and practicing interviewing techniques
* Session 6: Job retention and coping with workplace issues
In addition, self-efficacy and self-esteem-building exercises are integrated throughout the program. Most inmates readily accept the program and are interested in learning about career opportunities and appreciate the information provided at the sessions. Below are a few of the program's advantages:
* Inmates who do not have adequate IDs receive information about how to obtain such documentation. Fifty percent of the inmates participating in the job-readiness program are lacking one or more types of ID. Because most employers request such documentation at the time of hire or interview, individuals who do not have proper ID have difficulty becoming employed.
* Inmates become aware of special federal and state programs available to individuals with criminal backgrounds. Employers may qualify to receive tax credits by hiring ex-offenders. Employers may also receive up to $10,000 of insurance for an ex-offender under the federal bonding program.
* Inmates learn about employment opportunities available in the Western and Central regions of New York state by using Workforce Development Suite software. This software is a free service from the state's Department of Labor that lists positions posted through the department. It was installed onto each computer in the GED classroom and is updated weekly so inmates can view the most recent job listings.
* Inmates use Microsoft Word to create their own professional-looking resumes and cover letters, and save them onto disks. After their release, they are mailed 10 copies each of their resume and cover letter, the disk, a certificate of completion and information about the services and programs available at Wayne County Workforce Development.
* Inmates receive information about postsecondary and vocational training opportunities. Integral to the job-readiness program is exposing participants to training programs and opportunities. A vast majority of the inmates in the job-readiness program have expressed interest in furthering their education by pursuing training opportunities at community colleges, vocational centers, the military and job corps.
* After their release, past program participants have contacted the Wayne County Office of Workforce Development to receive services. Since January 2002, 57 percent of released males and 26 percent of released females who participated in JRT have made contact with a program counselor.
Wayne Finger Lakes Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), a partner agency to Wayne County Workforce Development, employs two GED instructors and one job placement specialist at the Wayne County Jail. Through telephone correspondence with the job placement specialist, information about Workforce Development programs is presented to inmates in the GED class. After a few presentations, the need to expand the program presented itself, but in order to do this, the support of the jail administrator, the director of Wayne County Workforce Development, and the director of jail programs from Wayne Finger Lakes BOCES was needed. The jail administrator and BOCES director both expressed their support and granted their approval for the proposed program. The director of Wayne County Workforce Development allowed programming at the jail for three hours per week.
Substantial support and guidance from the GED instructors were also provided. Since participants from the GED class were being recruited, it was not necessary to schedule a time and meeting area. The sessions are held either in the GED classroom or an alternative room, both of which are dedicated to the GED program at the time of the job-readiness program. Program costs are minimal; all of the handouts and worksheets were developed on-site and copies are made either on-site or at the Workforce Development office.
Dan, a minor serving three months for larceny, recently took his GED exam and participated in the JRT program. He described jail as "one of the better things that has happened to me because of the chance to learn new things and grow." After his release, he was contacted to schedule an appointment. Although he lives about 20 miles away from the office and has to rely on rides from family, Dan was able to keep his appointment and take advantage of the services at Wayne County Workforce Development. Dan's last correspondence with a counselor indicated that he was working 30 hours per week at a convenience store.
Julie receives Supplemental Security Income and has not worked since 1993. She is serving a six-month sentence at the Wayne County Jail. When Julie started participating in the JRT sessions, she seemed depressed and uninterested. She participated infrequently in discussions and admitted that she had no intention of finding a job after her release. However, within three weeks, Julie prepared and presented information to the group about her career goals. To do so, she had to adequately research the subject and make a poster about it. Julie is now exploring volunteer and part-time work for after her release from jail.
Providing this job training program to offenders is justified by one of WIA's core principles: universal access to services. As the examples above illustrate, success does not always mean employment. Sometimes, the effort of a recently released inmate to make and keep an appointment or the effort of an inmate -- especially a youth -- to work productively on job search-related topics also signifies success. The positive results of this program are both tangible, as evidenced by the completion of a resume, and intangible, as recognized by participants' increase in self-esteem and self-efficacy. Inmates at the Wayne County Jail who participate in the job-readiness program leave jail with verifiable job leads, are better-prepared for a job search with professional-looking resumes in hand, and are contacting the Wayne County Office of Workforce Development.
These services are provided at the jail one morning per week, but in the future, it will be important to offer job-readiness services to more inmates. The support of the jail administrator was of particular value, but the program could not have been successful without the support of correctional officers. With further collaboration among correctional officers, the jail administrator and service providers, the program will grow to encompass other inmates.
(1.) Buck, M. 2000. Getting back to work: Employment programs for ex-offenders. Available at: www.ppv.org/indexfiles/workforce-index.html.
(2.) Mukamal, D. 2001. From hard time to full time: Strategies to help move ex-offenders from welfare to work. Available at: www.doleta.gov/documents/hard.html.
Krista Etters is an employment and training counselor for Wayne County Work force Development.