Hiring People on Community Supervision

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This television program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2010/05/hiring-people-on-community-supervision/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

– Video begins –

Len Sipes: Hi, everybody, and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We have a really interesting show today. The show is about hiring people under community supervision and what we are doing with this show and a lot of the things that we’re doing in terms of radio shows and our website and our phone number is we’re crowd sourcing this issue. You in the business community, we want you to come and tell us how we can do it better; the people who hire the people from the community. We want you to tell us what we can do to do a better job of making sure, out of the 16,000 people under supervision in the District of Columbia on any given day, that as many of these individuals as possible have jobs. The research is very clear that the more of these individuals that have jobs, the less the recidivism rate, the less crime we have, and the less taxpayers have to shell out of their own pockets. So, it’s a win-win situation for everybody. To discuss this issue today, we have two principles with us: Eric Shuler, senior program analyst from my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and William Winchester, director of job training and green job development for housing evaluation plus. To Eric and William, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

William Winchester: Thank you very much, Leonard.

Eric Shuler: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Gentlemen, this is a tough topic. A lot of people have stereotypes and some of the stereotypes are justifiable about the 16,000 offenders that we have, people under supervision, under our supervision on any given day at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. But, Eric, the bottom line is that we do have thousands, thousands ready to go to work today who are beyond social issues, who are beyond substance abuse issues. They want to work. They would make good employees. They’re ready to go today. Correct?

Eric Shuler: Absolutely. And we have a need for employment opportunities for those thousands who are ready to go.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Eric Shuler: Through our process of partnerships with the community and the employers, we’re looking for those opportunities.

Len Sipes: And getting people to come to us and tell us how to do it better is going to be sort of the theme of the radio shows that we’re going to put up, the television shows that we’re going to put up. And, ladies and gentlemen, what I do want you to know; Eric is giving out his personal telephone number in terms of his desk, 202-442-1112, 202-442-1112. That’s Eric’s telephone number, www.csosa.gov. Look for hiring people under supervision. Go to that section in our website, as we have this conversation over the course of the next six or seven months. So, how can we convince people that to get beyond this stereotype of our individuals and the people under our supervision are just all unemployable? Is that a stereotype or not?

Eric Shuler: It is a stereotype and it’s one that we’re going to have to face head on. We have thousands of people who are qualified, skilled, have been assessed, and screened. And we’re interested in delivering our best people and letting people understand and employers understand specifically that we can be a reservoir of talent for their business.

Len Sipes: In essence, we’re not asking for a handout. What we’re saying to employers is that give us an opportunity to put our best people in your hands. We’re going to help you along the way. You can come back to us if there are issues. We’re going to be partners with you in finding that individual and while that individual is on the job. Correct?

Eric Shuler: Right. We have a system of assessment, counseling, matching, skills enhancement, and placement assistance that lets us be able to partner with employers and, when I say partner, I mean we work with them. It’s like a network; the Verizon network, for example. We have a network of people behind these individuals to manage, to work with, to teach them, to carry them along the path of being independent and successful within the employment arena and within their lives.

Len Sipes: Again, with the phone number, 202-442-1112, www.csosa.gov. William, you’re the person who basically does some hiring, does some training. What lessons from your part of the world, what instructions do you have to us in government in terms of making sure that as many individuals under our supervision are hired as possible?

William Winchester: Send us your best. Send us those individuals who you have screened that understand that we understand that they’ve had problems, that they’ve had issues. That’s not our issue. Come ready to work. Come diligent. Be truthful. Be forthright and we can go from there because we will train them. They don’t necessarily have to be totally qualified. Just come with the understanding of being able to be on time, show up every day, do some due diligence, and be there and be ready to go to work.

Len Sipes: I think most employers are going to tell us this: Exactly what you just said, William. I think most employers are going to say, you guarantee me that he or she will show up on time, sober. Give me my eight hours; don’t be distracted throughout the course of the day by phone calls or any other issues. Do what it is that I need you to do and I will employ you and I will train and I will set you up with a career, but you’ve got to bring, not necessarily construction skills, not necessarily truck driving skills, not necessarily specific job skills, you’ve got to bring the right attitude.

William Winchester: Correct. And attitude is most important. If you come willing to work and willing to learn and willing to accept whatever the circumstances are that has happened to you, we’re not judging you for those things. What we want is if we’re going to pay you for you to be able to help us to go to the next level.

Len Sipes: Eric, and that’s one of the things we were talking about before the show. I mean, we do have literally thousands. And isn’t that the dilemma? We have a public perception of offenders and I understand that public perception and I’m not going to disagree with that public perception. But, at the same time, the sort of tragedy, social tragedy, is that we have thousands who don’t fit that stereotype, who are ready to go today. William and I were talking about that attitude. They have that attitude. They’re ready and willing to go to work now.

Eric Shuler: Correct. And what we want to assure the public and the employers is that we have a system of qualifying, a system of, if you will, polishing the apple.

Len Sipes: Tell me about it. What do we do?

Eric Shuler: Well, we have a system that allows us to do an in depth assessment of their literacy skills. We have occupational assessments that we do, nationally recognized. And it gives them a certificate of employability. We also do the workshops that work on core skills, which most people call life skills, but they’re the core of the person, those things that are innate, that need to be present for you to be successful. And those are the things that William was alluding to that employers are looking for. Of course, employers will tell you, if you deliver me a person who’s willing, who is receptive, we’re willing to train them. And we have thousands who are far removed from their past, regressions, their crimes, who have paid their debt to society, they have worked very hard to acquire necessary marketable skills and we just need the opportunities to bring that about, that opportunity about. And I can say this: There are many benefits also to hiring from these individuals.

Len Sipes: Oh, thank you very much. And we’re going to have information about this on our website, right? Tax credits and bonding.

Eric Shuler: Correct. Tax credits and bonding. And in a short term, if people don’t understand what bonding does. It is provided for any person whose background usually leads employers to question whether or not they’re good employees.

Len Sipes: It limits their liability.

Eric Shuler: It limits their liability and at no cost to the employer or the employee.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eric Shuler: And the tax credits is something that is very valuable to an employer because it allows them to get an individual who’s going to come to help grow their business, help do the tasks that need to be done for them to be successful. And also it gives them a monetary incentive for hiring from our population of people.

Len Sipes: 202-442-1112 is the telephone number of that gentleman, Eric Shuler, of my agency, willing to give out his own telephone number. There will be others who will pick up if Eric’s not there. www.csosa.gov; look for hiring people under supervision. William, we’re going to be reaching out to business people and we want them to be honest with us. We’re not asking for anybody to pull any punches. We want them to say, Leonard, we’re going to hire your people because; we’re not going to hire because. We want an honest assessment from the business community. We want the business community to tell us how we can do it better. Are we opening ourselves up for, what are we opening ourselves up for?

William Winchester: Well, I don’t think you’re opening yourselves up for anything major, but what we would like is that, and we know that people slip; we know that things happen; we know that emergencies happen, so stick with us. Follow the person as well as we’re following them. If there is a problem, you stay in touch with them or you come back, even if they have to be replaced. Give us a person and make sure that that next person is as diligent as that first person versus us having to track them down and chase them down. If you do your due diligence, just to go down that road a little further, it makes us as employers a little more comfortable in picking up and bringing in somebody.

Len Sipes: But I do want to get over this point that we discussed before the show. It’s just not the people that we have under community supervision who we’re concerned about. Either one of you can jump in on this. I mean, look, my own kids drive me crazy in terms of their ability to say, yes sir and no sir, yes ma’am and no ma’am. Show up on time. I’m telling my kids. I said they don’t want to hear from you anything else besides you’re going to give them a productive eight hours. So, it’s just not the people under our supervision. Isn’t this a societal issue?

Eric Shuler: Absolutely, it is a societal issue and it’s something that is across the board. We just happen to have individuals who fall into some of that category, but I guarantee as a microcosm of society you could probably hire 20 people and out of that 20 people you’ll have some of those same issues. What our charge is at CSOSA is having a program, a process, a system of making sure and shoring up these individuals as they try to reintegrate into society and to seek gainful employment.

Len Sipes: But we do tell them the same thing I told my daughters, correct? Show up, and this is what I heard from an employer at a job fair one day, show up, shut up, do what I want you to do for eight hours. If you do that, we can train you, we can work with you, we can help you build a productive career, but you’ve got to show up and you’ve got to understand that for the next eight hours or more if I need you to, you’re mine.

Eric Shuler: That’s it.

Len Sipes: I mean, that’s what we tell our people, correct?

Eric Shuler: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s a simulation. It is integration. It is the understanding that the job is a part of you learning how to adjust to things. The job is a means to an end. A job is something that you go to. There’s a uniform that you wear, which is the office decor. There is a culture in any organization that you need to ascribe to and this is the important thing that I think William was eluding to that we all need to work very hard to make sure that those doors open, those opportunities are there for them to go in and purport themselves and to showcase their skills and abilities and their willingness to be a part of an organization.

Len Sipes: Now, William, I talk to people under our supervision and I’ve done so for years when I was with other agencies and they will tell me from time to time that I got turned down because of my criminal history. And sometimes I feel that that’s a tragedy because they are far from their criminal activities and a lot of them, their criminal activities were pretty minor. I mean, we do have probationers, people who haven’t been to prison, and I sometimes wonder if they want in with exactly the issues that we’re talking about; yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am, a nicely formatted resume, fully understanding that that person brings you those skills, not how to run a printing press, not how to drive a truck not how to lay concrete, those basic human skills. My guess is that the employer will probably hire that person, but that person’s presentation skills are extraordinarily important.

William Winchester: And that’s first and foremost and the other thing is that they have to understand that throughout their life every single day from 8:00 in the morning to midnight or however long people are looking at them and they will always be looking at them and sometimes, we had a situation where a young man was in the bank and he was hired because he was in the bank, he was acting very good, he wasn’t showing off, he wasn’t clowning, the person saw him, he heard in his conversation that he was looking for a job, the man was right behind him, he had a record; however, because he was showing some diligence, he was showing restraint, he was just out in public, he was hired because he was acting right, because he understood, because he was coming through our program that every single day somebody’s looking at you.

Len Sipes: Is the principal issue, attitude is the principal issue, job skills?

William Winchester: That’s the biggest; it’s attitude. It’s coming to work and understanding that basically you’re on somebody else’s time and you’re responsible for your actions from the time that you get there and even after that. We found out now even with the social networks and Facebook and things that people are looking on these social networks to see how people are responding and how people are reacting because there’s so many jobs and there’s so many opportunities that everybody’s looking at everybody all the time.

Len Sipes: And that becomes worrisome, too, because that presentation skill that you provide to that employer is the same presentation skill that you have to have on your Facebook page.

William Winchester: Correct.

Len Sipes: I mean, you’ve got to be the whole person. That employer is going to be checking into your background.

William Winchester: All the time.

Len Sipes: And so people just need to understand that. Eric, do our folks understand that?

Eric Shuler: They do understand that and it’s demonstrated daily. We have a unit called, the VOTE Unit. It stands for Vocational Opportunities Training and Employment. It is our way of polishing that apple. It is our way of getting them to understand, to modify behavior. And that just what you said, it’s not, I heard William say acting, but what you said was being, and that’s very important because you need to be the kind of person, we all need to be the kind of person that does the right thing when no one’s watching

Len Sipes: Right. Bring your A game everyday.

Eric Shuler: Absolutely, absolutely. And that’s what the multitude of folks that we have, who have gone through the behavioral modification, who have corrected their attitudes towards work, towards society, and they’re just looking for that opportunity and we have thousands. And they’re being subjected to a broad brush painting of lumping all folks together.

Len Sipes: I met a man who was in his early 40s and he’d been, like, 10 years away from his crime. The crime was a non-violent crime. The guy had real presentation skills, so the guy had real occupational skills and he was telling me that he was being bounced, and this is a very tough economy to be out there looking for work, but he was being bounced time after time because of the fact that he had a criminal record. And I said to myself, now this is a shame. I mean, there really is an issue. I’m not going to dispute society’s stereotypes. I understand why they’re there and I’m not going to necessarily disagree with them, but I do understand at the same time him as a human being. He would have made a good employer.

Eric Shuler: Sure.

Len Sipes: Or good employee, I’m sorry.

Eric Shuler: A criminal past or a criminal record is something that you can’t get away from, but you can overcome.

Len Sipes: All right. We’re going to have to leave it there. We’re going to the next segment and we’ll continue this discussion. Ladies and gentlemen, 202-442-1112, 202-442-1112, www.csosa.gov; look for the “hire us” or “hire people under community supervision.” That part of the website we need your opinion. Stay with us. We’ll be right back as we explore this issue some more. Be right back with you.

[Music Playing]

Len Sipes: Hi, ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes. And we continue to crowd source a very important issue; that is, hiring people under community supervision. We are looking for you, employer, you the person who hires people, you the person from the business sector, from the non-profit sector, from the government sector. We want you to come and tell us either by phone or via the website or through the radio shows that we’re going to be doing, the television shows that we’re going to be doing about this issue. We want you to tell us what it is that we need to do to do a better job of trying to hire as many people as possible, the people who are under our supervision on a day-to-day basis in the District of Columbia, 16,000, the research is clear. If they are hired, the more they work the fewer crimes they commit, the greater their chance for becoming taxpayers instead of tax burdens, the greater propensity of taking care of their kids; 70 percent are fathers and mothers. So, we all have a big stake in terms of what it is we’re doing here. 202-442-1112 is this gentlemen’s personal telephone number at his desk; www.csosa.gov, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, look for “hire people under community supervision.” Back with us, Eric Shuler, the senior program analyst for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and also Alec Vincent, Manpower Development Specialist for the D.C. Department of Employment Services. Eric, Alec, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Eric Shuler: Thank you, Leonard.

Alec Vincent: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right. We’re going to talk to you, Eric, first and then we’re going to go over to Alec because one of the things that I love about Alec’s background is that he’s currently under supervision with our agency and yet he’s been able to cross that bridge and not only find meaningful employment, he’s working with our folks on a day-to-day basis. The District of Columbia is providing the bulk of these employment services, correct, Eric?

Eric Shuler: Correct. Absolutely. And let me say this, Alec is an example of operating under the framework that most likely will render us able to successfully matriculate ex-offenders into entry level positions as well as the high demand growth opportunities.

Len Sipes: While you mentioned that, entry level high demand. I hear people saying we want living wage, we want living wage. Don’t we want to start off at least with basic work skills and maybe that’s not going to be living wage for the moment but, hopefully, it’ll progress into something that is living wage?

Eric Shuler: Well, absolutely, absolutely. And one of the things we understand at CSOSA and we impart that onto the participants at CSOSA and the people under supervision is that this is a marathon; it’s not a sprint. And it’s key to understanding that. You don’t throw away pennies for dollars and we work very hard to get them to understand the work ethic that allows them to understand that and operate under that guise.

Len Sipes: Okay. But it’s interesting, I know people, before I even came to CSOSA from my job in the state of Maryland who are ex-offenders, who make a lot of money, who are doing very well at their occupations and, in one case and he’ll never do a radio show or television show with me; although, I’ve invited him on many times, sells insurance. And he’s making more money than you and I put together.

Eric Shuler: Yes. Well, it’s funny, Leonard, because in daily life you would be surprised how many people in the walks of life that you pass by, that you interact with on a daily basis who are ex-offenders.

Len Sipes: It’s my contention that every 10 people, every 15 people within any urban metropolitan area, you’re going to encounter a person who’s been in the criminal justice system.

Eric Shuler: Absolutely, absolutely. And at CSOSA one of the things we’re keen on is behavior modification and polishing that apple, meaning directing them into skills, enhancement programs, being the ambassadors to employers, to ask for those opportunities. Let’s get this clear: We’re not asking for a handout. We’re asking for opportunity.

Len Sipes: And we’ve said that. We’ve said that we’re not asking for a handout. We have thousands of individuals ready to go right now whose apples have been polished.

Eric Shuler: Absolutely, absolutely.

Len Sipes: And who are having a struggle in terms of finding employment. That’s why we’re crowd sourcing this entire issue, 202, this gentlemen’s telephone number, 202-442-1112, www.csosa.gov; look for “hiring people under community supervision.” Alec, tell me a little bit about your story here. Currently under our supervision?

Alec Vincent: Yes, I’m currently under supervision at CSOSA and, well, basically, I cam out of prison in about ’04 and, when I came home from prison, of course, before I came home, I already understood that I was going to have to come back into society, implement myself into society successfully, so a part of that preparation for that was to go for higher education. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to complete my degree while I was in, but I started that while I was in to prepare myself.

Len Sipes: And D.C. offenders, to make it clear to the public, they go to the federal prisons, so you came out of the one of the federal prisons.

Alec Vincent: Yes. Came out of one of the federal prisons, actually in Louisiana.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Alec Vincent: So, came back to D.C. and immediately started looking for employment and, of course, I was faced with some of the obstacles that most offenders, or all offenders, are faced with. A lot of the places you go and knock on the door, fill out resumes, fill out applications, I’m sorry, get your resume together. Unfortunately, after being gone for so long, there’s very little that you can have on your resume. That’s one of the barriers that you face.

Len Sipes: How do you handle that question? Well, Mr. Johnson, where you been for the last five years? Prison? How do you do that?

Alec Vincent: Well, actually some cases, I mean, my thing is to be very honest and I’ve been on several interviews and actually was very honest and that a lot of times be the reason why you’re not getting hired and I’ve sat and I’ve seen others that come from that same situation lie about that, based on the fact that after going and knocking on so many doors. I mean, you go and you go to 15 different establishments, whether it be private sector, non-profit, or government, and all of those places you go and some of those places even you have the qualifications to get the job.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s part of the issue here and that’s one of the things I really struggle with because I know thousands of you. I know thousands of Alec’s. They’re in a suit, they’re yes, sir, no sir. They are willing to work. They want to work. There’s no reason why they can’t make wonderful employees. That’s our point; that there’s thousands of you, people just like you right now who are ready to go to work and be good employees. We’re not asking for handouts; we’re asking for tell us what we can do to get folks like you hired because there is a stereotype and that stereotype does cause some people not to be hired. Right or wrong?

Alec Vincent: You’re definitely right. And sometimes, and me personally, understandably those stereotypes because we have had some to come and be afforded opportunities and not take advantage of it and not excel. But you have so many more that’s ready to go or ready to go into those opportunities and take full advantage of it and because of what a few have done, we all kind of suffer.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s again what we were talking about before the show, the production of the show. Eric and I were saying that we remind the people under our supervision that they’re just not dealing with themselves. You’re representing everybody caught up in the criminal justice system and you don’t want to give that employer the reason to say, all right; that’s it. I’m not hiring anybody else under community supervision again.

Alec Vincent: Exactly. And one of the things I did want to speak to. I heard Eric say earlier about polishing the apple. That’s one of the things that’s real paramount, I think, when we talk about dealing with ex-offenders that’s coming back to society, going into the workforce, polishing that apple because some do be a little rough around the edges and don’t have certain skills or they lack certain skills and we’re not talking about hard skills, soft skills. Those things, some just have a problem with getting up in the morning. Those are the things that you have persons that work at CSOSA that’s able to help with those and we have programs, other programs that’s out there to help those individuals. I think that’s one of the things, probably one of the most important things that need to be said to those employers about those persons that’s coming back to society, that they have that support system.

Len Sipes: I’ll ask you the same question I asked William on the first segment. Is it the job skills or is it the whole human being that you bring to that job interview? If our people want in and gave that message, are they going to get hired? That becomes the bottom line, doesn’t it?

Alec Vincent: I think so; I think so. I think it’s a combination of both, but I think, like you said, those other things, those soft skills, of having people that want to come to work, that’s going to come to work and be on time, give you 110 percent at work, and work eight hours, even more if so, if need be.

Len Sipes: All right. Work 10 hours, work 12 hours; you do what is necessary

Alec Vincent: Exactly. And

Len Sipes: Go ahead.

Alec Vincent: Oh, excuse me.

Len Sipes: No, no, no. Go ahead.

Alec Vincent: In the field that I work in, I work for D.C. government, I work with the ex-offender population as well and helping them find employment and I work with other supervisors and part of my job is to meet with supervisors and CEOs and employers daily. And one of the things I find that’s said to me so often is that when we have someone go to that work site and they hire that person and they want another person to come, one of the main things they say is send me somebody that wants to work.

Len Sipes: Got it. And you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, again, 202-442-1112, 202-442-1112; that gentlemen’s telephone number on that desk. Brave enough to take on the entire metropolitan area in terms of tell us what we can do to be sure that our folks are ready for your employment. Give us whatever advice is necessary; www.csosa.gov, look for “hiring people under supervision” part of the website. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

Eric Shuler: Thank you, man.

– Video ends –

Series Meta terms: Employment, Offenders, Parole, Probation, vocational, training, career, guidance, counseling.

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