Hiring Offenders – What Works – “DC Public Safety”
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Len Sipes: Welcome to DC Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today’s program is about employing people as they’re released from the prison system. And ladies and gentlemen, 700,000 people are released every year, each year, from state and federal prisons. Now the interesting part of this is that 50 percent go back to the prison system after three years. Those are national statistics. Concurrently, 50 percent on any given day are unemployed again, according to national statistics. Every Governor, every Mayor of the country is concerned about this issue, so we’re going to be talking about what it takes to employee people after they leave the prison system. We have two national experts with us on the first half of the program, P. Elizabeth Taylor, Correctional Program Specialist with the National Institute of Corrections, and Constance Parker, Administrator of the Maryland Reentry Initiative, Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, and to Pat and to Constance, welcome to DC Public Safety.
P. Elizabeth Taylor: Thank you.
Constance Parker: Thank you.
Len Sipes: All right, now this is an extraordinarily important topic. As I said in the introduction, Mayors and Governors, all Mayors, all Governors are very concerned about this. We have massive numbers of people returning to prison every year. The big concern is finding them jobs. And I want to get this clear from the very beginning, there are people who have left the prison system, who have left the correctional system; they’re employable; they’re a long time away since their last drug positive or infraction, and some cases they’re years away from their last criminal event. They have skills; they have honest to God skills, but they’re not finding work because of their criminal history. Pat, am I right or wrong?
P. Elizabeth Taylor: That is true. But part of the problem is a lot of times these transitioning adults, these offenders, aren’t aware of what their skills are. They don’t know what their skills are, and their job providers, their staffs are unaware as well. So at the National Institute of Corrections, we’re advocating for training, training that will result in a collaborative relationship between the offender, the practitioner and the employer.
Len Sipes: Well, that is the big thing in the National Institute of Corrections, part of the Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Department of Justice, you guys, everybody in the correctional field, my field, everybody turns to you all for guidance and direction and thank God for the National Institute of Corrections, you do a great job. You put out this long series of videos that really do try to get people in local and state systems trained in terms of what it is to find people employment, correct?
P. Elizabeth Taylor: Yes, we do. And in our training series, we start at the beginning which is with collaboration. And if you redefine collaboration, it no longer becomes what can I get from you as a practitioner, but what can we accomplish together. So we have the beginning of the training which is the Offender Employment Specialist Training, which helps the practitioner identify their stakeholders, their partners in the field. Then we go to the Offender Workforce Development Training, and it’s theory based, and it helps the practitioner respond to the basic questions that the offender will bring to the table. Am I the type of person that an employer will want to hire? What type of skills do I have? And when I identify my skills, what type of position should I pursue and how do I go about securing that position? And once I get that job how do I maintain employment?
Len Sipes: So first all, the first lesson of today, because I’ve been asked throughout the course of this program to lay out lessons learned. And ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to put lessons learned all throughout the programs. All of our guests today have given us lessons learned and we’re going to put them up throughout the program. So the first thing is train your staff and train your staff well.
P. Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.
Len Sipes: But you mention collaboration, and Constance, I’m going to go over to you for that question, what do we mean by collaboration?
Constance Parker: Well, what we mean by collaboration is pulling of the resources, the agencies, and the community organizations, the employers, as well as the offenders and ex-offenders, pulling together a team that works together bringing all of their expertise and resource to help increase the opportunity for improved employability of our offender population. Now breaking that down further what that really means is that when individuals come back into the community, they have a series of barriers, and employment is one of the goals that they have. However, there may be other barriers that may keep them from achieving that employment –
Len Sipes: Mental health, substance abuse. Yes.
Constance Parker: Yes, housing and other issues. So what we do is we pull together people with housing, people with child-support enforcement, people at one-stop career centers, employers, we work together as a team to see how we can assist that individual in becoming more employable. We utilize employers to let us know what it is they’re looking for.
Len Sipes: Either one of you can answer this question. I’ve been doing this for 20 years; it’s not as if they’re embracing our folks, the people that we’re responsible for, people coming out of the prison system, those collaborations are sometimes difficult. I have been told, “Leonard, we have veterans to take care of, we have the elderly to take care of, we have school children to take care of, we have people who are out of work who haven’t committed a crime, why are we doing anything special for people coming out of the prison system?”
P. Elizabeth Taylor: But it’s not doing anything special, it’s doing what is right.
Len Sipes: What is right means what?
P. Elizabeth Taylor: What is right means that you’re looking at public safety, and you’re looking at, and you mentioned the 700,000 people that are coming out, coming back into our community, but there’s also 9 million cycling in and out of our jail systems. You have 97, 98 percent of all the offender populations coming home. It is a question of public safety. It’s the right thing to do to embrace the transitioning person because they are part of the community.
Len Sipes: Well, that’s a very important point. Because we’re not talking about charity, we’re not talking about asking people for favors, first of all, we’re talking about people with skills who are safe risks, right? We’re not talking about people coming fresh from the prison system who has an anti-social personality, we’re talking about people who have skills, there’s time between themselves and their last crime and their last infraction and their last positive substance abuse test. They are employable now.
P. Elizabeth Taylor: And the point to be made – and this is what we advocate at the National Institute of Corrections – you must have an ongoing assessment process. You must assess those risks, those criminogenic risks. And what we’re finding, and research will prove this, will show this, the same risks that would have resulted in a person losing their job through being fired or just walking off the job are the same type of issues that may lead me back to reoffending or to some type of criminal offense. So if you have that assessment on the front end, help me identify my barriers, my challenges to self-sufficiency. And that’s part of the training process at our Institute, at NIC.
Len Sipes: Now Constance, going back to Pat’s reference to public safety, it is all about public safety. We’re talking about fewer people committing fewer crimes and fewer people going back to prison. We’re talking about public safety, we’re talking about saving taxpayers literally hundreds of millions of dollars, not building new prisons, a lot is riding on what we do here today, correct?
Constance Parker: Yes. And you talked about public safety and reducing the taxpayers –
P. Elizabeth Taylor: Burden.
Constance Parker: – burden, however, we’re also increasing the tax level if we are employing people.
Len Sipes: Right. And we’re also reconnecting offenders with their kids, because most have kids, so it’s a win-win situation for everybody.
Constance Parker: It is. And when Pat was talking about the assessment, one of the things that we do, we have the adult and correctional education as a part of the Department of Labor and Licensing Regulation. And they have programs within our state prison systems that actually help prepare folks before they come out and there are assessments that are done inside through the transition programs that are there.
Len Sipes: Another point in all of this that you ladies brought up was the fact that there has to be training. There has to be programs within the prison system and there has to be programs outside of the prison system to deal with employment, to deal with GED programs, to deal with mental health issues, to deal with substance abuse issues, but we all know that states are cash strapped. The federal government is cash strapped. It’s not as if we have enough programs for everybody who needs them. That’s the other part of the problem.
P. Elizabeth Taylor: This goes back to collaboration. The only way to do more with less is through collaboration. So it’s one thing to identify the needs of the person, but what organization or agency out there can better meet that need. Again, collaboration, what can we accomplish together?
Len Sipes: Right. The point we’re saying is that it’s not all government, it can’t be all government, it will never be all government. The Salvation Army has programs, faith-based institutions have programs. Literally, in a program that we employ here in Washington, D.C., through my Agency, the faith-based program, we’ve got hundreds of churches and hundreds of offenders involved, and they’re getting all sort of things every single day from child care to housing assistance to job training, through the faith-based community. So that’s the collaboration we’re talking about, right?
P. Elizabeth Taylor: It is –
Constance Parker: Yes, and that’s –
P. Elizabeth Taylor: I’m sorry.
Constance Parker: But that collaboration, what we are doing is that we’re building that collaboration from the inside out so that we’re bringing in many of those resources prior to a person being released. In addition, in the Maryland prison system we also have 18 occupational skills trainings that provide individuals who go through those trainings with national and state certification so when they come out they have a marketable skill. And very often, we work to connect them with employers prior to their release.
Len Sipes: What’s our message to employers, ladies? Training has to be there, collaboration has to be there, we need to have our folks trained in terms of, say, motivational techniques. I mean some of the folks coming out of prison, they don’t trust us, they don’t trust anybody. They’re very caustic. They’ve been in the prison system. We’ve got to motivate them to find the different things that are out there, we’ve got to encourage them, we have to supervise them. So that’s part of it, that’s part of the training part of it right, Pat?
P. Elizabeth Taylor: And that brings me to the third tier of our training which is the Offender Retention Training, which blends together motivational interviewing techniques with a cognitive behavioral process. And so quite simply what we’re saying is that if I change the way I communicate with you and develop a relationship with you, me as a practitioner, there’s a client centered, non-threatening relationship. And because of our tone of our conversation, I’m able to look at the connection between my feelings and my connections in my behaviors. And if done correctly, we’re talking about a hand off. So my case management by combining motivational interviewing with cognitive behavioral therapy, or support, results in self-management.
Len Sipes: Cognitive behavioral therapy. Now all three of us know, because we read the literature, that it really does work. Constance, you tell me what is cognitive behavioral therapy?
Constance Parker: I knew you were going to ask me that! It’s really helping an individual look at their behavior patterns and make choices as to what they want to change and how to change it.
Len Sipes: Thinking through things differently, learning how to look at life’s issues differently, learning how to think through life’s problems differently, learning how to shape the background that brought them into the prison system to begin with –
Constance Parker: And part of that training talks about change talk. So when you get folks able to, in a situation, begin to hear themselves and change the way they would have approached that particular problem. And as you begin to say things differently, and you begin to hear it, you begin to move in that direction. The other thing is this training is important because we’re training the professionals who are working with the individuals. Without that piece it would make no sense. If we, as professionals, don’t know how to relate to an individual, don’t know how to help that individual find within themselves the ability to make that change, then we’re doing a disservice. We can’t change anyone.
Len Sipes: Okay, we have to wrap up soon. What I’m hearing is train the staff, train the offender, go through that thinking process and join in a collaborative effort with everybody in the community to try to help that person as much as humanly possible and to find that person work, correct?
P. Elizabeth Taylor: Right. And understand from the employer’s perspective. We’re living in an employer driven workforce right now.
Len Sipes: Yes, we are.
P. Elizabeth Taylor: And we need to understand what their needs are. The old way of doing things, the face them and place them, did not work, it will never work. That is how we operated. As we develop these collaborative relationships with employers, they need to know that we are truly developing this partnership with them. We will do our work on the front end, we will find out about your industry, we know about labor market information, we’re not attempting to dump people.
Len Sipes: And we have to close on that, ladies. Thank you very much for being with us. And ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. Watch for us in the second half when an individual from my Agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, who is in charge of the process of finding people employment when they leave the prison system and a person who hires offenders leaving the prison system. They’ll be with us in the second half. Please stay with us.
Len Sipes: Hi, welcome back to DC Public Safety, I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes. We continue to talk about this whole concept of employing people as they leave the prison system. As I said at the beginning of the first part of the program, 700,000 people leave prison systems all throughout the United States and the federal system, half go back after three years and on any given day about half seem to be employed. In the first half, we had two national experts talk about principal points that everybody needs to understand in terms of making sure that as many of these individuals as possible are employed upon release. In the second half, we have people from Washington, D.C., my Agency, Tony Lewis, an Employment Specialist with Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and Furard Tate, Owner of Inspire Food Management, and Tony and Furard, welcome to DC Public Safety.
Furard Tate: Thank you, very much.
Tony Lewis: Thank you, very much.
Len Sipes: Hi, Tony, the first question goes to you. You’re part of a team that finds individuals work. They’re under our supervision. They can be on parole, they could be on mandatory, they could be on probation, you’re working with employers. How difficult is that?
Tony Lewis: Pretty difficult. But at the same time, in the VOTEE unit, we do a lot of work on the front end in terms of assessments from a literacy standpoint, skillset standpoint, and also from a behavioral standpoint to make sure that when we do refer individuals for positions that they’re one, ready, that they’re capable and also that they’ve shown to us that they’re committed to changing their lives. So I think when we do that we give ourselves a better shot but at the same time it’s a very difficult situation.
Len Sipes: The message I gave in the first half, does it apply? There are individuals who are years away from their last criminal activity, years away from their last positive drug test, they have no infractions, they have real skills, but they’re not finding work because of their criminal history. They’re perfectly employable, they’re not a risk to public safety, but they’re not finding work. Is that accurate?
Tony Lewis: That is very accurate. Very accurate. We have individuals that are extremely employable, ready to work right now, can come in and help a business grow, increase the productivity of a company, but sometimes, or most times, their criminal history kind of gets in the way of that. And we, myself, people like me, people in the VOTEE unit, we try to develop relationships with employers such as Mr. Tate and other employers so that they believe in us enough to give somebody a shot.
Len Sipes: And a quick summation. Everything that our national experts suggested on the first half, we do the assessments, we provide GED skills, we provide cognitive-behavioral therapy or thinking for change skills, we work with the individual to try to improve their skills as much as humanly possible before we send them out to the job interview, correct?
Tony Lewis: That’s very correct. And the experts before us were very on point about what’s necessary to make this work. And we also try to do research in terms of market research and research what the employers need and present that to the employer. I think when we do that we put the employer in a situation where they feel comfortable enough to say, “Hey, because this guy has the skillset from a business standpoint.” I think that’s the most important thing, can this person come in and do the job. And it’s not a sense of entitlement on behalf of the offender, it’s we have what you need.
Len Sipes: Before going over to Mr. Tate, I did want to point out that on our website, www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov, on the front page of the website, we have been hiring people under supervision. And we have radio shows, television shows, we have information about tax credits, because there are tax credits available –
Tony Lewis: Federal bonding programs.
Len Sipes: Federal bonding programs, so all of that information is available on our website.
Tony Lewis: And our number.
Len Sipes: And your number. But it doesn’t matter whether the program is being seen in Honolulu, Kansas City, or in Washington D.C., I just want everybody to know that that information is available on the website about the tax program, the bonding program and the tax program, because these are federal programs.
Tony Lewis: Right. Exactly.
Len Sipes: Mr. Tate?
Furard Tate: Hey, how are you?
Len Sipes: I’ve been looking forward to talking to you.
Furard Tate: Come on.
Len Sipes: First of all, you’ve got a great website which we’re going to be throwing up on the screen. I could not look at that site without feeling hungry.
Furard Tate: All right.
Len Sipes: That’s some of the most beautiful pictures of meat I’ve ever seen in my life!
Furard Tate: Wait until you taste it!
Len Sipes: I am. I’m going to have to stop by.
Furard Tate: Please do.
Len Sipes: Now, from an employer’s perspective –
Furard Tate: Yes.
Len Sipes: We’re the government, we’ve got people out of the prison system, we have people involved in the Criminal Justice System, and we want you to consider hiring these individuals. We don’t say it from a public safety point of view, we don’t say it from the standpoint that this is the right or the wrong thing to do, we’re just saying we are going to help you find the right person. Do you buy that?
Furard Tate: No. I still say why. But that’s why business owners have to look beyond all the great training that you all provide and still find what’s in it for the business owner and what’s in it for the person that you’re about the present to me. We have to find that match. We have to find that win-win. So a lot of times, when you think about all the back end support that these individuals are getting, you still have to do the work as a business owner to make sure that it’s a perfect match. You want to know that this individual has the skill and the desire to do the job that your company needs to take the company to the next level. So it’s on you also now to begin to be a part of that whole connection to make a win-win for everybody.
Len Sipes: But how do we establish that? How do we, in government, how does Tony, the people that Tony works with, how do we in government convince you that we’ve got a person that you should be willing to take a look at?
Furard Tate: He does it excellently. We develop a relationship far before he brings the individual to me. He finds what my needs are. He understands what my business model, and what is my mission, and the culture of my company, be it a small company or a large company, there’s an environment. So before you try to fit someone in, because he has a caseload with individuals ready to work, he understands what my needs are. So he can articulate that to a group of individuals who are ready and eager to be employed.
Len Sipes: All right. So it’s our responsibility, in government, to bring you our best possible candidates and to work with you ahead of time and establish that relationship.
Furard Tate: You have one chance.
Len Sipes: One chance.
Furard Tate: Because if not, you will actually destroy so much that I’ve built if you give me the wrong person.
Len Sipes: Right. Okay so really a heck of a lot rides on this. What do you tell people caught up in the Criminal Justice System? What do you tell the offenders? What are the lessons that they need to know and what do they need to understand?
Furard Tate: Get focused. Identify what it is that you want to do, get educated on that. There may not be a degree for it, but get focused on it, get educated and then get pumped up for you beginning to look at what are the available opportunities out there. So you need to be even more aggressive in finding that employment than the people who are helping you.
Len Sipes: So many of the employers that I’ve talked to in my career, they said bring me attitude. I can teach a person bricklaying, I can’t teach a person attitude. That person’s got to come, be on time every single day, he’s got to smile, she’s got to be cooperative, they got to be willing to work overtime, I don’t want to hear any drama, that’s what people need to understand, correct?
Furard Tate: Well, it gets hot in the kitchen. But if an individual is excited about becoming a chef, he loves the heat. So he’s already excited about being in that kitchen, and he’s going to beat me to the kitchen. So if we find that perfect individual, we got to go through a few individuals who just have the notion of being a chef, but the desire for being that chef isn’t there. So whatever that business is, there’s someone out there who really wants that job. Who’s going to show up on time, who’s going to perform and who’s going to do excellent work because it’s in them to be excellent.
Len Sipes: Tony, now in terms of our conversations with employers, we have a problem getting people employed. So obviously, when I talk to Mr. Tate and his enthusiasm, and Lord knows I love your enthusiasm as much as I love your website, as much as I love your product, we have a problem getting people employed. They’re perfectly employable skilled people. We’re not talking about the person fresh out of prison, we’re not talking about the antisocial personality, we’re talking about a person who’s ready for work. So obviously, all the things that we’ve discussed today between the national experts and ourselves, there’s a bit of a disconnect, we’re not convincing enough people to give us a chance.
Tony Lewis: I think the issue is, I think we need more involvement from the business community in some of these discussions. Because a lot of the hiring policies are what the issues are. It’s not always the individuals. The individuals are ready to go. Sometimes these companies, their hiring policies say you can’t have a felony. And if that’s the case, no matter how qualified an individual is, that person can’t work there. So right now, I feel that’s the biggest problem, we have to kind of work on the hiring policies of small and big business in the District of Columbia, and I guess nationwide.
Len Sipes: But I mean how do you work on these hiring policies? A lot of people are saying, “I just watched “Lock Up’ Up” on the cable channel last night, and I’m not hiring anybody from prison. I’m sorry, I don’t care if they can spin gold.”
Tony Lewis: Which I understand. But I think we have to do a better job of highlighting so many success stories. We have numerous success stories. People that have come home from prison, from incarceration, done amazing things on all levels from a lot of different industries and also in the community. We have to show that the person that you see on ‘America’s Most Wanted’ or ‘Lock Up’, that’s not the only perception of this population.
Len Sipes: We’ve both talked to, throughout our careers at this point thousands of people who have successfully made the transformation from tax burden to taxpayer. They’re working, they’re taking care of their kids –
Tony Lewis: A whole lot. They labor. But what happens is, I think, when we talk about that, that success story can never have as much impact as the person that chooses to reoffend. And that’s what we have to, we have to continue to hold those people up so that we get to a point where they begin to influence the perception as much as the negative images that we see.
Len Sipes: Well, Mr. Tate says that one, just one screws up the whole process.
Furard Tate: But see, I have more than one who has been with me for over ten years that started just out of an introduction. So it’s hard to not let that one stop you. But the fact of the matter is if I understand that this individual is on purpose, and it’s going to help me meet my bottom line, I’d be foolish not to give him or her an opportunity to be a part of this company to grow it.
Len Sipes: But that’s what we have to do, we have to appeal to the bottom line. I’m not quite sure we have to appeal to messages of public safety – and this is what this is all about, the conversation is about public safety, the conversation is not them going back to the prison system, the conversation is not about saving taxpayers literally hundreds of millions of dollars, for us that’s very important, for you it’s the bottom line. You’re a business person.
Furard Tate: Well, that person is working eight hours plus he doesn’t have the time to reoffend, he’s working. And then –
Len Sipes: And he sees a future.
Furard Tate: And he sees a future. Because we make sure that each person is connected to not only our company, but to their own personal success. So we’re asking individuals, because we, as a business owner, I have to be really aware of where he or her future lies and how I’m part of that.
Len Sipes: What’s the biggest detriment? Because I’ve talked to guys who’ve come out, they’re 35 years old, and says, “Man, I’m not going to be taking an entry-level position at 35, I’ve got a family to take care of, I’ve got myself to take care, I’m not,” that’s the wrong way of looking at it, correct?
Tony Lewis: I think a great deal of that falls, we’re talking about their cognitive behavior, therapy, things of that nature, motivation, interviewing, therefore a lot of that falls on an individual like myself in the VOTEE unit because what we have to be clear on is that we have to explain to our clients that, hey, listen, you have to be willing to crawl before you walk. That attitude is the wrong one to have. And at the end of the day some of our guys, whether you have the skillset or not, you have to be accountable for what you’ve done and be willing to show and prove that you want to take whatever steps that are necessary to reenter society in a positive way, and that family needs to be the motivation that will make you take whatever job that is available.
Len Sipes: We talked with the national experts about the fact that there has to be training programs in the prison system, there has to be training programs on the outside. We talked about the fact that there’s got to be staff training. We’ve talked about the fact that there’s got to be collaboration, and the two of you talked about that collaboration. Before you hired anybody, Mr. Tate, you were in collaboration with Tony, and that’s the way that it works. And then the final message in all of this is to the offender himself or herself. You’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to be willing to work and if that means starting off at the very bottom all over again to build those skills, those people skills, those service skills, the ability to get along with your supervisor, work well with a team, those are the skills that you’re trying to reestablish, right?
Tony Lewis: Absolutely.
Furard Tate: And don’t look at it as the bottom. Because if you’re doing what you want to do, if you’re doing whatever that industry is, this is where you’re starting, where you end up, it all relies on your ability to be excellent and do more than is expected. So I tell people be motivated, be pumped up, be your best. And I purposely guarantee you’ll see me, before I suit on, grilling in the morning, so don’t let where you are be such a downer because where you’re going to go, it all is up to you.
Len Sipes: And it’s all part of being in a positive environment too. Because what you’re talking about, Mr. Tate, is a very positive environment.
Furard Tate: Yes.
Len Sipes: All right, gentlemen, thank you for being with us, really appreciate it. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us, watch for us next time as we explore another very important topic in today’s Criminal Justice System. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.