Faith and Community-Based Reentry and Jobs Program:US Department of Labor

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Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Back at our microphones for a second time is Scott Shortenhaus. Scott is the Executive Director of the Center for Faith Based and Community Initiatives, with the US Department of Labor.

One of the things that the US Department of Labor, in conjunction with the US Department of Justice, in conjunction with other federal agencies have done over the course of the last six years, is to fund approximately 30 programs, all throughout the country, and these are community-based programs, and faith-based programs. They are not through the mayor’s office. They are not through the governmental entity. They are not through the Department of Corrections. They are not through the police department. They are community organizations, and they are faith-based organizations, and what they have done after those six years is to come up with a lot of results, and that is one of the reasons why we have Scott at the microphone this morning.

Scott, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Scott Shortenhaus: Thank you, Len, it’s great to be with you.

Len Sipes: Alright. We did another program, and we have to summarize that program just a tad, the first program we really just focused a lot on this issue of faith-based organizations and what it is that they do, and their roles, and what is appropriate and what is not. And just to summarize, we basically said that what is more important to a community in terms of its reputation, in terms of its standing in the community than a faith-based entity, and whether it is a Catholic church, a southern Baptist congregation or whether its an Islamic initiative, whether it’s coming out of the synagogue, these are organizations that have the trust of the community. So, if they get up and say that this is something that we should do, generally speaking there are thousands of people who would follow, is that correct?

Scott Shortenhaus: That’s correct, and having the safeguards in place to make sure there is no abuse on federal dollars, but the more important part is they exist in the community, they have this very compassionate vision, and they are able to produce some very good results, and it’s just good public policy.

Len Sipes: And one of the things that we are going to talk about is some of those lessons learned today in this program, in terms of the faith-based organizations, the community-based organizations and what it is that we’ve learned from that experience, but did , and, again, another point that we need to summarize that we are insistent. The Department of Justice and the Department of Labor and the federal government is insistent and our experience, both yours and mine, has been that most of the religious organizations, if not all of the religious organizations, will adhere to that. They cannot insist that the person come to church. So, if they are mentoring an offender who comes out of the prison system, and it’s a southern Baptist church, they cannot insist that person partake in their tenants or their beliefs to service that individual. So, the person can go to that Catholic church and be from the Islamic faith and receive all the services on the face of the earth, and there is no pressure to embrace the tenants of that particular religion, correct?

Scott Shortenhaus: That’s correct, Len, they cannot discriminate based on religion, on their entrance into the program, and then we also put the safeguards in to make sure that any inherently religious activity is offered at a separate time and location, and there is no condition that they participate in that in order to receive the services.

Len Sipes: And we both acknowledge that it’s not going to satisfy the critiques that believe in a staunch separation of church and state, that we are still going to have our critics on that particular point, and we move on from there.

Okay, so one of the things, in terms of today’s discussion, the second discussion is going to be on the lessons learned in terms of, again, the faith-based organizations, the community organizations and how they interact with the larger political structure, how they interact with the larger governmental structure, because we in the Criminal Justice System, we have a problem. We think we are in charge, and we’re not in charge of anything. It is the communities and themselves that make those decisions. It is community leadership. It is in many cases faith-based leadership that makes those decisions and sometimes we are not jumping up and down for joy that now that this church, this Islamic center, this synagogue suddenly has this power to make decisions about what is happening in this particular community, correct.

Scott Shortenhaus: Correct, and I would like to just address that a little bit from the angle of the president’s reentry initiative, if you think that would be okay.

Len Sipes: Sure, of course.

Scott Shortenhaus: What we’ve done, is that the president announced his Prison Reentry Initiative in his 2004 State of the Union, and from that the Department of Labor has funded 30 faith-based and community organizations all across the country that are providing job placement, job training, mentoring and providing other services to returning adult ex-offenders, ages 18 and up, and what we’ve done also is that the Department of Justice has provided grants for services for these men and woman, pre-release. The pre-release activities include case management, vocational training, transitional plans, risk and a needs assessment and things like that. The results that we are seeing are very encouraging. Nearly 12,900 people, over 12,900 men and women have been served by these organizations and over 7900 have been placed into the jobs and the recidivism rates at one-year post release are less than half the national average.

Len Sipes: That is incredible. That is a wonderful result. That is not the norm.

Scott Shortenhaus: And we are very proud of that, that these organizations are proving that they are helping to provide some very good results, and so what we’ve seen is that we are kind of creating mini marriages at the local level, in 30 different communities in the country, between the Criminal Justice agencies, the State Departments of Correction and faith-based and community organizations, many of whom have not worked together before, and you know, I think in developing these relationships we are realizing a couple of things. In creating our relationships and functional partnerships, you have to realize what’s in involved in both institutions. I think that institutions have to realize the great strengths that faith-based and community organizations ,

Len Sipes: Institutions, meaning government and bureaucracy.

Scott Shortenhaus: Yeah, government, the state correctional facilities, local prisons and things like the police department, but also faith-based community organizations have to realize the great worth that the correctional departments, the police department’s, Parole and Probation, bring to the reentry process, itself, and that they are all working towards the same goal. You know, what we are looking at here, and what we are seeing is that there has been a real kind of class of cultures here. A lot of these organizations want to work behind the wall and to create these relationships. Statistics have shown that if you create these relationships with these men and women before they are released, it can be far more effective, but you’ve got clashing cultures. They don’t speak the same language. You’ve got to follow the rules. When they say, be here at noon for an appointment, and you show up at 12:30, that creates a lot of havoc and you are seeing that in working together there is a clash in cultures, and you have to work through these in order to have a working relationship.

Some of the things that we have seen which are very effective is creating a seamless transition plan. So, if you have reentry specialists from the Department of Corrections, working with parole and probation, working with these faith-based community organizations and not having three plans, but having one plan, where everybody knows what is going on with this offender, and everybody is on the same page, and what role each is providing, it is incredibly effective and it seems like a basic thing, but it is often times we are working in silos here and not working against each other, but we don’t even know what the others are up to. So meeting with these institutions, creating these seamless transition plans, can be affective.

We’ve also worked with some of the courts, and some of the parole and probation services to where they have created such a great relationship that it is a condition of their supervision that they participate in certain of these organizations that they share information. I think it’s also important, and results are very important for us, Len, in that everybody is accountable for their program. The faith-based organizations can track results and can show that the parole and the probation and the facilities, they can show us, this is what we are doing and here are the results.

Len Sipes: Obviously, from the results of the program, and the results are what make it or break it in terms of our ability to tell citizens that this is a potent combination. On the first program, you mentioned that if they are in mentoring, and when I say mentoring, it could be three people on one offender. It could be a one-on-one relationship. There are wide varieties and forms of mentoring, but if they are mentored, they stay and they get the job, and stay in the job. If they are mentored, they recidivate at a much lesser rate than the everybody else, so you are bringing data to the table that certainly indicates that this is a potent sort of thing, and we within the criminal justice system have got to get over ourselves. We’ve got to work in cooperation with these community-based organizations, with these faith-based organizations, and develop that seamless plan that you are talking about. But even in government, that seamless plan does not exist. You know, even if you have the same agency, and I was in Maryland for 14 years and the Division of Corrections really did not really talk much to Parole and Probation. They are in the same department, in the Maryland Department of Safety, but there is not a lot of conversation that is going on between the two. So, that sense of a seamless plan involving community-based and faith-based organizations, that’s a tough row to hoe.

Scott Shortenhaus: Right, and we are not saying that it’s easy. We know that there are a lot of barriers to that happening, but we have seen it happen. We have seen it happen in many of the 30 communities, and it is possible, and when it is done, I think that’s in the best interest of the men and woman that are returning so that they don’t have, you know, three different plans that they are trying to juggle on top of returning to their family and finding a job and finding housing. It’s much better for the offender when these institutes can work together.

Len Sipes: What happens? What are your points that we were talking about drawing out different points and lessons learned in terms of the community-based organizations and in terms of the faith-based organizations. What do you think are the key points?

Scott Shortenhaus: Some of the key points, I think, and are you speaking in terms of what services they provide?

Len Sipes: How are the lessons learned? I mean, you know, if I’m representing the governmental bureaucracy, dealing with ex-offenders and somebody says, well, we are going to give $600,000 to the Roman Catholic Church, and my first response is to moan and groan, and you know, these faith-based and community organizations don’t know how to manage a dollar, they don’t know how to do these contracts, and are they going to cause me an endless amount of grief. It’s the uncertainty of that relationship, and obviously you have been successful. The US Department of Labor has been successful in terms of creating those relationships, helping those relationships start, for the lack of a better word, or to be successful, so what are the key lessons learned from doing that?

Scott Shortenhaus: Sure, I think some of the key lessons learned that we have seen with these organizations and their ability to produce good results is mentoring, which we covered in the previous program, and job placement and training. But it’s also leadership buy-in. I think that when you look at correctional facilities working with faith-based community organizations, the leadership buy-in has to be there on both ends and the folks have to know that this is a priority or our warden, from our secretary, from our director, and on the faith-based community organization side, it’s a priority from our executive director that they work together.

And second, and I think this is very, very important, and that is that seamless case management is a necessity.

Len Sipes: Explain case management.

Scott Shortenhaus: Sure. Sure. A case manager might be when they return to the community, and in the faith-based community side of things, it’s a person that kind of helps to navigate this person and navigates their transportation, navigates their , you know, it’s the person that kind of shepherds them through the program in order to find a job or to stay out of prison, and sometimes, in parole and probation, it can be a case manager and in many ways they have got conditions that they are supposed meet, and sometimes behind the wall, we have reentry specialists, and so these are a different sort of case managers.

Len Sipes: In figuring out who this person is, analyzing this person from a criminal history point of view, and from a needs point of view, so that we can say that the guy is on his third burglary, he is 35 years old, he has a substance abuse history, and he doesn’t have much in the way of a job background, and these are the different things that we are going to have to focus on, and we have to hold him accountable for his behavior while out of the community, but at the same time, he really needs job development. He really needs substance abuse therapy and counseling when he gets into the community, and by the way having a mentor would be a wonderful thing for this person. So that’s basically case management.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: So, any other lessons? We have to do case management. Everybody has got to understand the strengths that everybody brings to the table, anything else?

Scott Shortenhaus: On thing is, we have to figure out the accessibility. Once you identify who the players are in the community, these entities, these faith-based and community organizations, and there are many that exist in every community. We are funding 30 through the present Prison Reentry Initiative, but here in Washington DC alone, there are dozens and dozens of organizations that provide services to men and women returning from prison.

Len Sipes: Right, and we have our own at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We have our own faith-based coalition, and we are working with faith organizations throughout the city, and it’s a powerful component.

Scott Shortenhaus: That’s fantastic. And once you identify these entities, then you have to figure out how we provide them access to these men and women before they are released. How are the facilities identifying the men and woman that are returning. Are they alerting them when they are two months out, four months out, six months out? When is the community notified that this man or this woman is returning, and then second of all, how do we match up the faith-based community organizations with these men and women.

You know, I was talking to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections a couple of days ago, and they said, “Mondays from 3-4 is when the community can show up and they can , you know, we give them a list of the men and women that are returning, and they can make these connections at this time,” so there are different ways to do that, but we have to figure out a way to provide access and I think that comes from relationships.

Len Sipes: Now, we are halfway through the program and we haven’t even hit the job component of it yet, and we have to start focusing on that on the last half of the component, but let me give me your name, telephone number and website address.

Scott Shortenhaus, Deputy Director for the Center of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, US Department of Labor. Scott’s telephone number is (202)693-6459. They have a website at the Department of Labor which is

Scott Shortenhaus: CFBCI. Center for Faith Based Community Initiative.

Len Sipes: Okay, jobs. I did Jail or Job Corp kids a billion years ago, and I found this. Job Corp was a wonderful initiative that basically offered individuals their education, getting their GED, getting their plumbing certificate and buying them their tools and really doing a comprehensive assessment as to who what person was and providing that person with the wherewithal to go out and get work. Now, here is my assessment of my experience, in my one whole year at Job Corp, which was the hardest job I ever had in my life, and that’s including security and law enforcement. It is that one-third understood their circumstances and embraced that job, embraced that job training and that job opportunity. One-third were on the fence, and one-third you couldn’t reach regardless of the circumstances.

So, just because you have an opportunity does not mean that people embrace it, and that becomes the difficulty of this whole issue of placing people in jobs, does it not?

Scott Shortenhaus: Yeah, and that’s true. It can be a challenge, but there is no doubt that when men and women return, one of their biggest needs is finding a job.

Len Sipes: You sit down with that offender, and it’s like, “Mr. Sipes, yeah, I need to get my GED, but not now.”

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And, “I need drug treatment, but not now. I need to get a job. I have to get a job with a future,” and that’s what 90% of them will tell you upon release from prison.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely, and often times, Len, one of the best social services can be a job. It can be the structure that a job provides, with others, etc, etc.

Len Sipes: And we all understand that. What was your experience in terms of your 30 sites throughout the country? You said that most of them found jobs, and most of them kept the jobs.

Scott Shortenhaus: Most of them found the jobs, and most of them kept the jobs, and I think in order to find out why they were successful, we have to take a step back and see where we came from in this area.

When we were developing the Ready for Work Program, we sat down and did a focus group with employers. We did two focus groups with employers, and we said, we are developing programs that are going to help retrain men and women, and what will help you hire these men and women as they return to the community? Is it the Federal Bonding Program? Is it the Work Opportunity Tax Credit? What is it?

Len Sipes: And we have not even touched the bonding programs and the tax initiatives. Maybe we can come back and do a third program on those two issues.

Scott Shortenhaus: We could. They said that it was none of that. They said, “This is the heart of how and why we would hire these men and women. We need somebody that can vouch for them, that can say “˜we have come alongside of them,’ a faith-based community organization, maybe it’s a mentor, or other people that can say when it’s 9:05 and that person has not shown up, they can call an organization and say, “˜Scott’s not here. Where do we go?'” Business are in the business of meeting their bottom line.

Len Sipes: Of course. They are not social service entities. They are there to make a profit.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely, and many of them said, they would be willing to take a chance on hiring a person, and giving that person a second chance, someone that has a criminal background.

Len Sipes: But come to me and tell me that this guy is truly ready to work.

Scott Shortenhaus: That’s exactly right. They said, “We can teach them the hard skills. We can teach them how to build a house, and we can teach them how to ,”

Len Sipes: Right, lay concrete.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely, and in any and all of those jobs. It’s give me an organization that can work with these men and women coming out that can provide them life skills, soft skills and ways to interact with coworkers, how to dress for the job, how to communicate with a boss.

Len Sipes: You just cannot tell the boss to go pound sand. That’s not going to aid in your job retention.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely, and that is often times that some of those life skills trainings are some of the things that the faith-based community organizations can excel at.

Len Sipes: Absolutely, and such a key issue. You can take a person who has spent 40 years working, who volunteers to help this individual and when this individual comes back and says, “You know, the boss is on my derriere. I’m getting sick and tired of it,” he or she can tell them how to deal with that particular individual. Wouldn’t we all love to have that support system out there. I need it from time to time, and I would imagine most of you people need it from time to time. But, I mean, that’s the heart and soul of this.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely, and let me just tell you a little bit about how these organizations have set up their employment programs. Oftentimes, you will have two different positions within these organizations. One, is a training specialist who is responsible for operating the classes, for developing the curriculum, helping these men and women be prepared for jobs, and that training specialist works hand-in-hand with a job developer, and their job is to work in the community, and oftentimes in high-growth and high-demand jobs, who knows full well the laws and regulations about hiring people with criminal backgrounds, and construction is a great field, and sometimes healthcare is not. So, to know that, and to navigate that, and then to work these employers to sell them on hiring men and women that are coming back.

I mean, it’s important to know that these organizations are providing a valuable resource for employers. The cost of turnover is extremely high, and we have on our website a Cost of Turnover worksheet, where a faith-based organization can work through what the cost of turnover with an organization or business.

Let me just give you an example. A couple of years ago, Steve Wing of CVS told me this story.

Len Sipes: CVS, the drugstore?

Scott Shortenhaus: CVS, the drugstore. They ran an ad here in the Washington Post for flat tax and things like that. They spent about $50,000 in advertising and got zero job applicants. They met with the pastor of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church here, Reverend Edmonds, and he said, “Well, why don’t you just do a job fair at my church,” and Steve thought about it and decided to do it, and over 250 people showed up for the job fair. More than 100 were hired, and at least half or more of them stayed on the job for a good portion of the time. These organizations can be wonderful resources for employers, especially when you look at the cost of job turnover. So, for them to know their niche and to know the industries that they can go to and say, “We’ll provide you with a good workforce,” where they’ve got a mentor, and they are receiving life skills, and they are eager to work, because these men and woman want to work and stay out of prison.

Len Sipes: The funny thing about it is that there is no doubt about that. I believe that they all are sincere. I mean, you know, the criminal lifestyle is just a terrible, terrible lifestyle. I don’t care what the movies say. I don’t care what the videos say. I don’t care what the music says. The criminal lifestyle, being in the game, being part of the lifestyle as everybody puts it, is just death, and self-destruction, and everybody attached to the Criminal Justice System knows this, so if the individual can come out of prison and have that support group and have meaningful jobs, and hopefully something that will give that individual a future, that is leaps and bounds better than the life they knew previously, but breaking from that life that they knew previously, sometimes that is the biggest barrier that we have to deal with.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely, and I think this touches on something that we talked about last program, and I’m not going to get into it now, but the combination of employment, job skills, job training and job placement, with mentoring, where you are providing these men and women with the support that they need to navigate the job, to navigate the transit system, to navigate family reunification, can be a very potent combination that we really believe in at the Department of Labor.

Len Sipes: How do you train individuals, because part of this involved training, did it not?

Scott Shortenhaus: Some of it in the department does involve training, and I think what you will see is that with very different organizations and 30 different markets across the country, you are going to see different training in different areas, so really these organizations are forming training programs, according to the employers they have marketed with and have networked with. So, our Des Moines site might have a very different training program than with our Brooklyn site and than our San Diego sites, so it really varies across the board.

Len Sipes: But in many cases, you don’t have to, and boy I am going to get letters on this one, you don’t have to have a bricklaying background to be a bricklayer’s apprentice. You don’t have to have a plumbing background to be a plumber’s apprentice. And, there are unions out there, throughout the country, that provide these sort of apprenticeship programs, and also pay them while they are going through the apprenticeship program. You don’t have to know how to lay concrete which is one of the most physically demanding jobs on the face of the earth. Somebody will teach you how to do that, so we are talking about job training, and in many cases as one employer said to me, “Tell them to show up, shut up and do what we tell them to do, and we can lead them to a great career,” but they’ve got to be willing. The biggest thing is show up and learn and pay attention and we’ll take care of the rest.

Scott Shortenhaus: That’s exactly right, and many of these faith-based community organizations are great at taking somebody who is returning, and making them job ready and preparing them through mock interviews, preparing them through “dress for success” programs, preparing them with life skills training, and to be ready on that job. And, when they show up, they can learn how to lay bricks, lay concrete, build houses, as you mentioned, and do whatever it is, manufacturing, etc. Whatever it is, in the industries they are being trained for, the employers are willing to provide the hard skills training.

Len Sipes: Yeah, and so they don’t have to go to the community college for two years. They don’t have to go to an organization for six months. In many cases, what these employers are saying and I’m probably repeating myself unnecessarily, but what they are saying is, “Just give me a person with a strong sense of work. Just give me a person that has the right attitude and is willing to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and is willing to be out there in the dead of winter and the heat of summer,” and that person can make, within the first year, $40,000 a year, and it’s all uphill from there, and we can work that person from the day he or she comes along until the next 20 years. So, there are ways out that don’t involve an enormous amount of money.

Scott Shortenhaus: And what we’ve seen also is that oftentimes many of these organizations have wonderful reputations within the communities that they are existing in, but the best selling point can sometimes be just one or two good participants where the employer says, “I’ll take a chance on a couple and see how it goes,” and then these participants are good workers, that they show up to work every day on time, they do a great job, they work well with their colleagues, and all of a sudden word of mouth spreads and this employer will not only employ more but he will talk to other people within their sector and they will start to take folks from these programs and success can build on itself.

Len Sipes: Scott, there is so much that we need to talk about. We did two programs and there is just so much more to cover. You are a very interesting interview, and I really appreciate you being with us today. Scott Shortenhaus, and he is the Deputy Director of the Center of Faith Based and Community Initiatives with the US Department of Labor, telephone number of (202)693-6459, and the website for the US Department of Labor, in terms of this initiative, is Ladies and Gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Have yourselves a very pleasant day.

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