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NIC provides practitioners skills to help offenders with re-entry.

The National Institute of Corrections' Offender Workforce Development Specialist training program is a comprehensive curriculum designed to increase participants' ability to provide adult offenders and ex-offenders with the skills required for employment, retention and career advancement. The program aims to train professionals who directly or indirectly offer one or more of the following: offender employment training, placement and retention services, or career counseling, such as personnel in prisons, jails, community correctional facilities, colleges, employment agencies and other community-based organizations. In addition, the program addresses the competencies designed to meet certification as a global career development facilitator.

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NIC's Office of Correctional Job Training and Placement (OCJTP) developed the training program. One of the primary functions of OCJTP is to provide staff the training required to develop competencies in working with adult offenders and ex-offenders relative to job training, placement, retention, advancement and career assistance.

OCJTP was established by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, and became an integral part of NIC in March 1995. The purpose of this legislation was to support the development and improvement of job training and placement programs for adult offenders in custody or under community supervision and ex-offenders.

Program Design

The training program is 160 hours and consists of three blocks. Each block is four and a half days or 36 hours for a total of 108 hours of classroom instruction. Additionally, there are approximately 52 hours of practicum and homework assignments.

The three blocks of training are scheduled approximately 30 days apart to allow participants to return to their local jurisdictions and take care of critical job responsibilities. However, the intervals between classroom sessions are used to complete practicum and reading assignments.

This training program is designed for six-person teams. In addition to the required competencies, which include employment assessments, labor market information and resources, individual facilitation skills, group facilitation skills and employability, the OWDS training program provides instruction in training other offender employment service providers to increase their basic skill level in the areas of work force development and career facilitation. As part of the OWDS training, state teams create action plans for implementing employment training in their home states. These plans often reflect the teams' excitement about transferring their enhanced skills and knowledge to their colleagues.

Program Evaluation

The impact of NIC's OWDS training program is measured at several levels using Kirkpatrick's four-level training performance evaluation model. Training may be measured for participant satisfaction, new skills and knowledge, learning behavioral changes on the job and organizational performance results.

Participants' evaluations, tests and statements indicate that through the training they receive, they have learned new skills and acquired additional knowledge, making it worth all the "blood, sweat and tears." But what, if anything, is truly changing about the way participants approach offender employment following their intensive training? OCJTP followed up with teams requesting brief updates on the progress of their action plans and their efforts to improve offender work force development in their home states.

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The Colorado Team

Following its OWDS training, the team from Colorado trained key stake-holders on offender employment issues and practices at the John Inmann Work and Family Center, a multiagency offender services center focused on work and family services. The center's partners include the Colorado Department of Corrections, Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Colorado Department of Public Safety/Division of Criminal Justice, Denver Mayor's Office of Workforce Development, Denver Department of Human Services and a number of community and faith-based organizations. The OWDS team also trained the DOC reintegration staff who are responsible for providing prerelease programs and individual transition planning in 16 facilities across the state; and the community-based reintegration staff associated with work force centers that provide employment services, such as assessment and job placement, and work with parole and community corrections staff to coordinate employment and service delivery.

The OWDS team training of key partners has resulted in unexpected benefits. For example, a veterans representative from a work force center attended the training, liked what was being presented and became involved in facility employment programs. This later contributed to the development of a possible veterans grant program.

The Iowa Team

Iowa's OWDS team returned to train the Sixth Judicial District's employment staff, probation officers, residential officer, Workforce Investment Act staff, community college staff, vocational rehabilitation staff and prison transition counselors. These practitioners now meet the classroom requirements to apply for the nationally recognized Career Development Facilitator certification, which is fortuitous since the Iowa team has developed a career track for correctional staff who work with the following employment programs: offender employment specialist, offender workforce development specialist and program manager, and has written this eligibility for certification into the job descriptions for each.

One of the staff members who benefitted from the Iowa OWDS team's training was Connie Wimer, a job developer for nine years. "I taught myself how to do my job by networking with other agencies. The OWDS training broadened my approach and improved the skills I use to assist the individuals on my caseload," she said. "I believe the offenders and ex-offenders are getting better assistance from me due to my ability to provide multifaceted interventions. Additionally, I feel it has raised the professionalism of my position and allowed my colleagues to see the specialized skills I have learned."

The Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services initiated several programs for the offenders it supervises both in the field and in residential settings. These programs are designed to improve initial job placement, matching, satisfaction and retention, as well as overall career development. Staff use the skills and tools attained through OWDS training to deliver high-quality services to benefit offenders and the community. Offender work force development is particularly important in the Sixth District's supervision process given the agency's commitment to the "what works" literature and its use of the Level of Service Inventory. Successful employment and job retention can positively impact many of the risk factors indicated by the inventory.

For the past three years, exit interviews were conducted with successful discharges from the district's residential facilities, which have consistently shown that offenders were happy with the employment programs they received. Programs in the Sixth District also included involvement with Kirkwood Community College, where offenders were referred for assessment and job readiness. Programming in-house included computer assessments, counseling and, based on need, referrals to partner organizations.

The Maryland Team

Members of the Maryland OWDS team report that like many states, Maryland has experienced significant cuts in the state budget resulting in staff reductions, as well as major reductions in employment, training and transition services for ex-offenders. Rising above these challenges, the Maryland State Department of Education and the DOC continued to host periodic real and mock career fairs, employer appreciation celebrations, career exploration and work force development programs. Regional staff development activities occur quarterly to address career assessment, documents for employment, retention strategies, accessing community partners and other OWDS competencies.

Currently, an interagency team is working on a number of initiatives in partnership with state, local and community service providers. These initiatives include the creation of a job opportunities task force, which hosts policy work sessions to address barriers to employment and serves as an active advocacy group to draw legislative and funding attention to ex-offenders in need of employment, training and support services upon release from confinement.

Other offender work force development projects in Maryland include the Transitional Jobs Project Model, a technical assistance grant awarded to the Baltimore National League of Cities, and the YESNetwork Project. The YESNetwork Project provides classroom instruction inside institutions and directed services at two one-stop career centers. The Advisory Council on Offender Employment Coordination addresses policy and practice issues that impact offender employment, and attempts to build the knowledge and skills of ex-offenders (to improve their chances of successful employment when they transition back to the community). In addition, the advisory council expands the network of employers willing to hire ex-offenders in jobs, leading to their self-sufficiency.

The Minnesota Team

After completing its own OWDS training, Minnesota's team facilitated 32 hours of distance-learning training on offender job retention and provided a customized 16-hour curriculum on offender employment. The team conducted both programs at correctional facilities to introduce community-based practitioners to the environment where offenders are preparing for reintegration.

In Hennepin County, plans are under way to implement an offender employment program in the Department of Community Corrections. The program bridges the gap between incarceration and all other supervision levels. A continuum of services and interventions will be available to deal with employability issues. In Minnesota, reducing recidivism through employability will be the focus for many practitioners who have traditionally been responsible for offender supervision and compliance with court directives. Much of the offender employment program will be based on OCJTP's 2001 paper and on the Offender Job Retention distance learning training curriculum, which is available from the NIC Information Center.

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Minnesota is forming a network of approximately 140 offender employment specialists from 50 different organizations, including community-based programs, jails and prisons. The network's goal is to increase the knowledge base of professionals relative to what works and best practices in offender employment programs from around the country.

The Missouri Team

Missouri's OWDS team returned to train staff assigned to the Offender Re-Entry Grant Initiative and the Transition from Prison to Community Initiative using the OWDS basic skill modules provided by NIC. Missouri also is providing training for its faith-based organization staff, initiative grant staff, community members, probation and parole officers, and their employability skills and life skills team.

Seven institutions in Missouri offer employability skills and life skills classes, which are taught by certified teachers. The state is looking to expand these classes to additional institutions since they are included in the transition plans for students with special needs and offenders who are targeted for Missouri's re-entry grant.

The North Carolina Team

One of the North Carolina OWDS team members is managing the Job Preparation for Offenders project, which focuses on matching job-qualified inmates with prospective employment opportunities at the time of release and on promoting the employment of ex-offenders as a sound business decision.

The OWDS team is leading local interagency support groups, comprised of service providers who have a stake in offender job development and employment, including faith-based and other nonprofit organizations. These support groups coordinate transition services available to ex-offenders within the community.

The OWDS team also conducted a series of staff development workshops for community correctional officers and day reporting center staff on career-building skills for offenders. They were sponsored by the North Carolina Workforce Development Institute. All activities undertaken by the OWDS team have been implemented in partnership with the state's work force development community as coordinated by the North Carolina Commission on Workforce Preparedness.

Sophia Feaster, a mental health social worker for the DOC, who was part of the North Carolina OWDS team, said, "What makes this partnership unique and interesting is that for the first time, community agencies, along with the North Carolina prison system, are working together as a team to address the problem of recidivism." The team attributes the beginning of this partnership, called Project Re-Entry, to its OWDS training experience.

The Oklahoma Team

Some of the more recent OWDS training graduates are from Oklahoma. The Oklahoma OWDS team provided a one-day information session for a group of service providers in its home state.

The U.S. Probation Team

Following their OWDS training, the members of the team from the U.S. Probation Office in the Eastern District of Missouri completed Career Development Facilitator Instructor training, and are now certified instructors of the curriculum. The team is providing OWDS instruction to U.S. probation and pretrial officers from across the country, as well as state and local correctional and employment service providers.

Missouri's federal OWDS team also has provided training and information to offenders at a job seminar; to employers at breakfasts; and to staff of the U.S. Probation Office, Community Corrections Centers, U.S. Bureau of Prisons and local, nonprofit organizations. Training topics have included collaboration, communication, assessment, diversity, barriers, case planning and offender job retention. The OWDS team, in partnership with 26 area agencies, also held the first annual Partnership for Success Career Fair for ex-offenders. More than 1,000 local, state and federal ex-offenders attended the job fair that resulted in nearly 200 offenders becoming employed.

The federal team is embracing a systems approach to ex-offender employment. The foundation of the program is creating collaborative alliances and relationships with the Bureau of Prisons, community corrections centers in the region, community organizations, training providers and employers. The plan focuses on offender assessment, job-readiness training, job placement in meaningful employment and job retention with ongoing assessment data while emphasizing research and development of comprehensive programs versus single events.

The Vermont Team

Vermont's OWDS team focused on developing a strategy to bring about local partnerships among the DOC, Department of Employment and Training, and Department of Vocational Rehabilitation with the goals of improving offenders' ability to build successful career paths, and find and retain meaningful employment at livable wages.

Following its training, the team organized a statewide conference attended by key managers from across the state, representing each of the three departments, to introduce the plan. The Vermont DOC is following with training for line staff from all three departments and other appropriate community partners in different regions.

Vermont's DOC also is creating a work force development program that combines high school diploma and GED preparation, vocational training, work experience and job placement services. This program will function both inside facilities and community-based settings to provide seamless, integrated transition and service delivery.

The Washington Team

In addition to presenting to law enforcement groups in Washington, members of the OWDS team contributed to the development of a curriculum on offender work force development issues for offenders. This training has been delivered to staff from state and local agencies, colleges, law enforcement, community-based organizations and private individuals.

Conclusion

The OWDS training provides an opportunity for state and local jurisdictions nationwide to improve the knowledge and skills of practitioners regarding career development for offenders. But the question remains: Is the training truly having an impact? The progress reports reveal that practitioners are indeed transferring knowledge, coordinating service delivery and building systems that reflect their increased commitment to providing quality offender work force development initiatives.

This training program is announced annually in the NIC service plan, which is available upon request from the NIC Information Center and can be downloaded from its Web site at www.nicic.org. To request a service plan, call 1-800-877-1461 or (303) 682-0213; or e-mail asknicic@nicic.org. In addition, announcements will be made through NIC brochures, conference workshops, training programs and technical assistance.

Shelly Morelock, M.A., is a program specialist based in the Washington, D.C., office of the National Institute of Corrections. Melissa Houston, MSW, is a criminal justice consultant with Houston & Associates in Cleveland. For additional information on OWDS training, contact Morelock at (202) 353-0485.
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Title Annotation:CT Feature; United States. National Institute of Corrections
Author:Morelock, Shelly; Houston, Melissa
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2003
Words:2504
Previous Article:Iowa implements mental health re-entry program.
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