This is a mentor-based comprehensive plan to provide incarcerated inmates in the United States with the opportunity to acquire education and skills for a gainful career, commencing within three years before final release from prison.
Why Career Development is the Answer:
Recidivism will end when individuals believe they have the power to control their own destiny. Self-determination is a fundamental part of human nature. The route to self-determination includes the road to career development. Career development allows individuals to design and pursue their own economic destiny. For various reasons most inmates missed out on growing up to believe they had the capacity to make their own judgments and provide for themselves. Ironically, now that they are confined in prison, there is time and opportunity to allow their instincts for constructive self-determination to unfold and develop. We can facilitate their search for a career of interest and their education and training for that career as part of the rehabilitation mandate during the final period of incarceration. This is an essential opportunity for the individual inmates, their families, and society as a whole.
Inmates return to jurisdictions in every area of the country, every day, to reintegrate into their families and communities. In order for them to successfully reintegrate, they must have opportunities they did not have before they were sent to prison: education, career training, and gainful employment. This will require the coordinated services of:
Inmates are returning home to their communities all around the United States from both federal and state prisons as ill-prepared to be productive as they were when they first went in. They are returning at the rate of 700,000/year. On average, for of every 100,000 adults, 25 inmates per month return to geographic areas throughout the country. It is important to understand that each returning inmate has been absent from technological advances and other societal shifts. Recidivating at the rate of 67%, those ex-offenders are currently returned to their communities with no new career skills and no money or assets. They are trying to start over with little or nothing. They need to reunite with family, including children who don’t “know” them. They are expected by their families to be able to contribute financially. In the words of Attorney General Eric Holder, “We know that gainful employment is one of the keys to successful reintegration. If having an occupation is central to successful re-entry, then it is no wonder that 2/3 of all released prisoners will be rearrested in 3 years. Yet, once those who commit crimes pay their societal debts, we expect they will reenter our communities ready to resume a productive role; that they will remain drug and alcohol free, crime free, sober and that they will get a productive job.”
How It Should Work:
There is only one way the words of the Attorney General can become a reality. Gainful employment for returning inmates requires the unified efforts of our community organizations, educational institutions, local area businesses, and governmental entities, commencing a joint process during the last three years of each inmate’s incarceration. The effort will need to be coordinated through the educational institutions as they will be involved at every step of the process. There are community colleges and vocational technical schools serving their communities in every area of this country.
Steps to Successful Career Development in Prison:
Educational Institutions Are Ready For the Challenge:
Educational institutions throughout the country are capable of developing the college and career curricula to be taught to inmates while in prison. They have proven their ability to partner with employers in their geographic areas to develop curricula that meet the needs of the business trades in their communities. This coordination helps to ensure that those who earn degrees or certifications are qualified to meet the actual needs of the employers (Hinckley & Hull, Adult Career Pathways, CORD, 2007). Because each geographic area of the country has different business clusters to prepare for, this need is best met locally. This component calls upon businesses large and small to partner with the colleges to create the specific curricula for properly trained workers. Both the colleges and the employers have demonstrated their ability to partner in this effort. An excellent example of a successful partnership is the Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing Program jointly developed by Edmonds Community College and The Boeing Company in the Pacific Northwest.
Each inmate student, both in prison and during reentry, will need the assistance of tutors and mentors. Tutors and mentors will be educated, experienced inmates who will receive “good time credits” for their participation. During reentry into the community, volunteer tutors and mentors should be trained and matched by the educational and non-profit organizations to assist with registration, financial aid, scheduling, studying, and basic needs. For the inmate student to become qualified for gainful employment at the end of the prison term, it will be necessary to begin this education and training process during the last few years of incarceration. The final year of the inmate’s sentence should be spent in supervised or halfway-house assignment to complete college or vocational training and start part-time work with their designated employer.
Participating employers will be asked to commit to hiring inmates who complete the program and obtain degrees or certification. This promise of employment is a major incentive that will provide motivation for the inmates to continue the program through graduation. It is also a well-earned accomplishment that will instill pride and confidence. For the employer there is an expectation that these former inmates will be dedicated and properly trained employees.
Educational institutions are the logical partner for coordination of this effort as they are permanent institutions in most communities and are committed to the cause of education (Hinckley & Hull, 2007). The other obvious partners are non-profits and charitable organizations with trained and compassionate volunteers whose goal it will be to assist inmates and their families in meeting their basic and social needs.
With educational institutions and non-profits taking the lead in helping educate and develop the inmate into a career-qualified employee, the employers in those areas will be able to make advance commitments for ensured career positions upon successful graduation from the final phase of this comprehensive partnership development plan. Once employers commit to guaranteed career positions, the prisons and governmental entities will be tasked with ensuring that the facilities and coordinated instruction are available and permitted to engage with the inmates in educationally positive settings. Prisons already have educational departments in place with dedicated buildings and classrooms. They have computer labs and are ready to use current or accept advanced computer equipment. Curriculum will be provided by the educational institutions. High-quality educational materials will be available through the Internet or media reproduction. Each institution has educated and experienced inmates to assist as tutors and mentors for instructing with the pre-developed curriculum. By using the resources that already exist there is no need for new expenditures or any delay in the implementation of this plan. Successful programs already in operation in prisons prove this can be accomplished. These programs include The Last Mile (San Francisco), University Beyond Bars (Seattle), Defy Ventures (San Francisco), and the If Project (Seattle). Programs such as Life Skills To Work (Seattle), Reset Foundation (San Francisco), and Post-Prison Education Program (Seattle) provide career-development education following incarceration and in lieu of incarceration. These post-incarceration programs are also suitable for being taught in the prisons so men are career ready when they complete their sentences, not years after release, as currently happens.
Why I Believe This Program Will Work:
I believe this proposed career development plan during incarceration will work because I have lived in both worlds, helping individuals create new financially supporting careers for themselves—first as an employment law trial attorney for over 30 years and second as an inmate in federal prisons for financial crimes I committed while practicing law. I served my time in federal prison and lived with men who wanted to be able to provide for themselves and their families but had no idea how to do it without resorting to crime. With the help of compassionate and dedicated individuals, I successfully helped men develop career paths before they left prison. I witnessed despair and hopelessness turn to optimism and empowerment. Unfortunately, the project stopped when I was released. However, I know a more comprehensive effort needs to be re-implemented in all prisons in every part of the country if we are serious about reducing recidivism. Providing the means to career development with a commitment for gainful employment before inmates leave prison gives them the opportunity for improvement of their self-worth, for successful re-entry, and for self-determination. That is why it works.