Hiring Offenders-DC Central Kitchen

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/04/offender-employment-dc-central-kitchen/

Leonard: From the nations capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen the program today is about hiring offenders with a focus on an extraordinarily successful program here in the District of Colombia, DC Central Kitchen. We have three people by our microphones today. We have Sarah Riley. She is the program administration manager for DC Central Kitchen. We have Persus Johnson a recruitment and intake coordinator, again for DC Central Kitchen, and we have Luella Johnson. She is a supervisor revocation and development specialist for my agencies Court Services and Offender Supervision Agencies. She heads up vote. The vocational opportunities for training, education, and employment division. Ladies welcome to DC Public Safety.

Sarah Riley: Thank you.

Luella Johnson: Thank you.

Persus Johnson: Thank you.

Leonard: All right, I want to go around the room and explain to our listeners first of all, what DC Central Kitchen is and then we will go over to Luella to talk about our agency Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in her division vote. So Sarah, you going to start us off?

Sarah Riley: Thank you. Yes, so DC Central Kitchen is a not-for-profit organization, founded in 1989 by Robert Egger. Our mission statement is to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities. So Persus and I work at the culinary job training program, which is one of the many programs DC Central Kitchen offers.

Leonard: Okay, but DC Central Kitchen in essence is more than just a training program?

Sarah Riley: Yes.

Leonard: Okay, tell me a little bit more about that.

Sarah Riley: Well, we have a food recovery and meal distribution program that recovers food from the local community and we send it out to homeless shelters, after school programs, transitional programs, so we feed different organizations so they don’t have to spend their own money on food.

Leonard: Okay, so you act as a food bank?

Sarah Riley: Of sorts yes.

Leonard: Okay, good. So you have that distribution at intake and distribution of food, plus you have a training program, training people in culinary arts.

Sarah Riley: Yes.

Leonard: Anything else to it?

Sarah Riley: We also have a healthy corners program, getting fruits and vegetables and healthy snacks out to food deserts in wards seven and eight here in DC.

Leonard: Wow.

Sarah Riley: Then we also have our campus kitchen program, which replicates the DC Central Kitchen model in campus kitchens across America. We are in forty-two different universities.

Leonard: Tell me about that. What does that mean? Forty-two universities. You are in forty-two universities doing what?

Sarah Riley: Well, the students their kitchen space when it is not occupied, to work with their local community, so some are feeding single mothers, some are feeding the elderly, some are feeding after school programs. They work with their community to find out where the need is and then try to fulfill that.

Leonard: I am very impressed. I am assuming DC Central Kitchen is a DC centered program and you are in forty-two locations throughout the United States.

Sarah Riley: We are all over the place.

Leonard: You are really devoted to this whole concept of food and getting food in the hands of people who need it.

Sarah Riley: Yes. Using food as a tool to build communities.

Leonard: Okay, so the training part of it is just a small part of it then.

Sarah Riley: It’s our flagship program, it’s the biggest program most people know us for, the training program because we are getting men and women back to work, especially people that have been incarcerated but we do have several things.

Leonard: Well, it’s an extraordinarily interesting program and I do want to talk more about it, but I am going to shift over to Luella Johnson the supervisor revocation development specialist here at our agency. Luella, Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. Tell for the other initiated, what is the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.

Luella Johnson: Well, CSOSA is an independent federal law enforcement agency that supervises individuals on probation, parole and supervised release here in the District of Colombia. We are a very unique federal government agency in that our jurisdiction is strictly in the District of Colombia. I am very proud to supervise our vote unit where we have a staff of twelve dedicated professionals who identify employment training and educational opportunities for those clients, and at any given time, we have approximately about five hundred individuals on our case load that we are providing services to.

Leonard: That’s an amazing amount of people.

Luella Johnson: Yes.

Leonard: So, anybody who has an educational or a vocational efficiency, they come to your unit to re-mediate.

Luella Johnson: That is correct. There is a criteria, however. These individuals, if they are coming seeking employment, they have to be thirty days drug free before they are referred to us. We do take marijuana users in our learning labs, but that is the only drug.

Leonard: The bottom line is, is that they are ready for employment in most cases, and the bottom line is that the people who we put up for the employment process are ready for training, they’re ready for employment. In most cases, they’re far beyond any drug history at all. In most cases they’re stabilized, so when people say, when we talk about hiring people caught up in the criminal justice system, we are not talking about someone fresh from prison, we are talking about somebody who is prepared.

Luella Johnson: Absolutely, and I think we are very proud of our process, because what we do is, as individuals who are referred to us, we place them in three categories. They are job-ready, job-preparatory or adult learning and we refer individuals who are job-ready for our best training partners and out best employer partners and with that, that allows for success, it allows for us to continue to have a direct pipeline to suitable employment and training opportunities because we are continually given our partners quality individuals.

Leonard: I think that is the key into this, because we do have a problem with employment of people under supervision, in the District of Colombia. Earlier we were talking about those who are eligible for employment. Now, if you are caught up in a residential training program or if you are going for drug treatment or you are going for mental health counseling, you are not an eligible individual, but for those eligible individuals, we are only talking about fifty percent of our people being employed on any given day. We have said that there are literally hundreds if not thousands of people ready to employ now correct?

Luella Johnson: I wouldn’t say that it’s hundreds and thousands. Unfortunately, many of our offenders, they face a lot of different challenges and also when you look at they area that we are in, it is very challenging in the District of Colombia, because you have a city that has a lot of individuals who have advanced degrees, who have advanced experience, no criminal history and unfortunately many rock lines are competing with these individuals and so in that regaurd, that is a challenge for those individuals and for us we have to do what we can with the resources that we have to give these individuals prepared to compete with individuals who far exceed their experience and qualifications.

Leonard: I just wanted to say that I have interviewed lots of people who are under supervision who are looking for employment before these microphones in the past and you sit there across from these individuals in suits, coats and ties and they are carrying themselves perfectly. In many instances these people have some education or some experience and you wonder why aren’t they employed, but I am going to go over to Persus Johnson who is the recruitment and intake coordinator for DC Central Kitchen. Who do you look for up here Persus?

Persus Johnson: We are looking for various things when it comes down to an individual that we are looking for. We recruit at a lot of different agencies, so we are recruiting at places where there are citizens who are in recovery from addiction where they may be in halfway housing, where they may be in another employee training program even in find that they are interested in culinary. So we are looking in different places but when it comes to the actual individual and their qualifications, we are looking for someone who has stable housing, we are looking for someone who has 120 days drug free. We are looking for someone who, if they have children has a plan to take care of those kids during the day and they are in our full time program. We are looking for people who have a support network.

They may have been coming out of incarceration, but they may have family members or former bosses, or coaches or things like that who are supporting their efforts for them to get back on their feet. We are looking for a lot of different things and it’s a really good question but it presents the biggest challenge for us in a way.

Leonard: Right

Persus Johnson: Because everyone is different and we can never say with certainty that X individual is going to do really well because they have met all of those criteria. It’s just kind of the framework that we operate in.

Leonard: I wanted to give out the website to DC Central Kitchen. WWW.DCCentralKitchen.org. WWW.CSOSA.gov. What is the secret sols to DC Central Kitchen. Now that we gotten the preliminary taken care of. DC Central Kitchen is phenomenally successful. You have taken individuals who have been caught up in the the criminal justice system. They are working. They are working full time, they are taxpayers who are no longer tax burdens, are taking care of their families. There is something really interesting about DC Central Kitchen. We did an interview with a national culinary arts magazine a little while ago about that relationship between our folks and people we try to place in DC Central Kitchen and in fact, this coming Thursday, tomorrow in fact, we are dealing with another interview about DC Central Kitchen and the folks that we refer there. There is something secret, something interesting, something magic that’s happening with DC Central Kitchen. I want to know what it is.

Sarah Riley: Like Persus said, everybody is an individual. Persus and I, our task is to hone in on who’s ready for change. We use the word change a lot at the kitchen, because we are really looking for somebody that knows that they don’t want to go back to prison, knows that they cannot continue doing what they have been doing in the past and has some self awareness and on the continuing of change, is ready for change. Is continuance and our plan, I guess how we work it, is a holistic approach. So, we are not just doing, here are some knife skills, here is a resume, good luck int eh job field. We have a class called self empowerment, which is dealing with he trauma that we have all been through, dealing with issues that they have had stemming from childhood, dealing with issues coming out of incarceration and reintegrating back into society. And then we couple that self empowerment with the hard skills in the kitchen. You do learn how to cook at DC Central Kitchen, but then we also do job readiness skills and then we do the soft skills, time management, conflict resolution. Our holisitc approach is to get at it from all different angles and then we assist them with their employment as well.

Leonard: All right Persus, so what we are talking about is a holistic program that trains people to go and work within the culinary industry, either in DC or beyond.

Sarah Riley: Yes, absolutely, and I would add too, that we really try to meet individuals where they are. We are not trying to convince them of anything. Most of them are ready for change, but at the same time we want to meet them where they are, if they’re presenting certain challenges like they have a specific challenge with housing maybe. We want to work with them on that and not necessarily disqualify them from our program, but say how can we assist you on this one thing that would help you successfully complete our program.

Leonard: How many people have successfully completed the program?

Luella Johnson: Over 1,000. In last year alone we graduated 85 students.

Leonard: Okay. What percentage of the people that go in graduate.

Luella Johnson: The retention rate is really high. It’s in the mid 80’s.

Leonard: Okay, and that is the point that I want to get to, because I have been looking at research and been involved in the criminal justice system for decades and a lot of these programs that are out there throughout the country, the retention rate and the success rate is like 30%, 40%. A lot of drop outs. You are talking about eighty percent. That is dag on phenomenal.

Luella Johnson: In the mid 2000’s, our graduation rate was around fifty percent. We beefed up the program and added a couple of layers and that’s why we have such a high retention rate now and because we screen people so closely on the intake. Thankfully, we have been around since 1989, so people know about us. We have a really strong partnership with CSOSA, so we have a ready influx of candidates that know about the program and really want to get in, see the results and so we are really able to screen the applicants.

Leonard: Okay I am going to take one more crack at this. The reporter from the national newspaper that interviewed us about why DC Central Kitchen is so successful with people caught up in the criminal justice system. She wasn’t satisfied with our standard answer. She said there is something unique going on here that neither one of you are getting to. Anyone want to take a crack at that, I am going to give the interview one more chance. What is it about DC Central Kitchen. She suggested is that this is a creative world. A world that brings that persons personal sense of creativity to that forefront. That persons personal sense of expression, so its not like the rjkl on a construction site pouring concrete. They’re in there creating and she suggested that, that may be the secret sauce. I’m not putting words into your mouth but you go from there.

Persus Johnson: Maybe an outside perspective would help. I don’t know, Luella. Do you happen to know?

Luella Johnson: I really think its about that particular individual deciding to make a change. Generally when we have individuals who are on parole. They really do not want to go back into the bureau prisons and they want to really come out and make a difference in their lives and when you encounter individuals who are determined to make a difference; That’s a really nice tasty, spicy sauce so to speak. I mean, that is what really gets those individuals able to really be successful. All you have to do is kind of really guide them a little bit, but they are doing all of the work because they made the change.

Leonard: Its personal change and I accept that because, again, when interviewing people under supervision by these microphones for over a decade, they all say the same thing. They say you’ve go to want it within you heart. You’ve got to accept it within your heart. You’ve got to make that personal change, but the retention rate in some other jobs where they are placed is not nearly as high as we have with DC Central Kitchen. When they graduate how many people go out and actually find jobs?

Sarah Riley: Pretty much the whole class will find employment eventually.

Persus Johnson: I mean we also make it a point to, I don’t want to say stock, but we stick with our students throughout, not only the process for which they are in the program, but well after that because ultimately there success no matter when that happiness is our success. So, if at graduation they’re not ready to start a job maybe three weeks after graduation they are. Maybe six weeks after graduation they found something. Our workforce coordinators work very hard to followup and to allow DC Central Kitchen to be a space that they can always return to. I think that is an important element.

Leonard: Any percent completion rate nearly 100% rate of placement  within the occupational area in which they had been trained is phenomenal not just for people in the criminal justice system but any job training program across the board. Ladies and gentlemen we are doing a program today about hiring offenders. We have people from DC Central Kitchen and we do love DC Central Kitchen. They have a national reputation and now I know they are in how many colleges. Forty-eight?

Sarah Riley: Forty-two

Leonard: Forty-two colleges throughout the country in terms of using their kitchens for food redistribution. We have Sara Riley program administration manager from DC Central Kitchen. Persus Johnson recruitment and intake coordinator and Luella Johnson supervisory revocation development specialist from my agency Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency. WWW.DCCentralKitchen.org. WWW.CSOSA.gov, Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency dot gov. All right, where do we go to from here. People are listening to this program throughout the country. We have a national audience. Twenty percent of our audience is international. So you have got people in France, in England listening to this program now. You have got people in New Zealand. What message do we give them about people caught up in the criminal justice system in the employment process? You didn’t expect that question did you?

Sarah Riley: No we didn’t. I’ll speak to that because I find that it’s something that comes up daily when I speak to a lot of our students. That is , you know, we always talk about how DC Central Kitchen is kind of like the house of second chances. We can give second chances, but we also need for the community and the employers to buy into giving second chances because ultimately we can prepare a student as much as we want, we can vouch for them and say that they are working really hard to shake, as my mother would call it, the monkey off your back, which is your record. Ultimately we need employers to say okay, I am willing to set aside your record and take you as an individual and see what you can commit and bring to the table. You have completed 14 weeks of a program where is was rigorous and so lets give you an opportunity to work with us.

That’s kind of what we need. We get buy-in community agencies, we get buy-in from people that want to participate in the program, but we need employers to buy-in because those are the people who really the ones who are providing the second chance.

Leonard: And how difficult is that process of inviting employers to participate in the hiring of people caught up in the criminal justice system.

Persus Johnson: I think it depends, it depends on what that employers experience has been. If they have had a positive experience they are very open to it. If they have had a couple of situations where providing that employment opportunity to an offender didn’t go quit well, they may be a little susceptible, but that only means that we have, as advocates, for these offenders who are seeking employment have to really dig in deep and really do our very best to reach out to these employers and say individuals need second chances and sometimes they need a third and a fourth. If you keep that in mind that these are our neighbors, these are people that we see in out communities, then that will change the perspective. That if we are able to give them a chance, we can turn them into tax paying citizens, as opposed to someone who is a drain on our economy, if we are constantly putting them away.

Leonard: Plus making society much safer.

Persus Johnson: Much Safer.

Leonard: The research is very clear that the benefits of having people employed when they come out of the prison system or when they’re on probation, because a majority of our folks are on probation, not coming from the prison system, finding them work. Everybody does better and everybody benefits and yet we say that and I am not quite sure that message carries the day. What you are all saying is that there are good people ready to go to work today that will be a benefit to that individual. That’s your message correct.

Sarah Riley: Absolutely.

Persus Johnson: Absolutely. Individuals, like I said before, are like the people that they encounter everyday. They have families, they want to be good parents, they want to be good husbands and wives, and they want to be self sufficient. They just need the opportunity.

Leonard: But let me go back to the question opposed by that national reporter. Her sense was once again, its the creativity of working in the culinary interesting. It’s the creativity of making something. It’s the immediate gratification of a customer consuming what they’ve made. There are rewards and creative benefits that you are not going to find in a lot of jobs.

Sarah Riley: I think that’s true I think that a lot of returning citizens, a lot of people that are coming out of incarceration that come to our program have cooked while they were incarcerated. They cooked in prison, so they have experience with it. It’s something they know that they can handle and then they do get the gratification of people enjoy their food knowing they get the self confidence knowing that they can handle this job and then I think its an art. You can be creative with culinary and its one of those jobs anywhere you go. So they know everybody eats hopefully a couple meals a day and that there is job security in the culinary industry, and its one of those industries that’s forgiving to people with criminal backgrounds.

Leonard: And why is that?

Sarah Riley: That’s a good question. I don’t know… You know what, I am sorry to cut you off Luella, but I think one of the reasons is because… Persus and I both have backgrounds in the restaurant industry and they just want you to show up. Show up, be on time and do your job. If you can learn what the chef is teaching you and show up on time, that’s all there is to it. That’s one of the things we are really adamant about in the program is punctuality, and then saying yes chef. Listen to what the chef is saying, no back talk just yes chef, yes chef, yes chef. Then you can do it, its one of those jobs you don’t have to have an education for. At the program specifically you don’t have to have a high school diploma or and GED. So its open for people that might work better with their hands, but also not want to work outside all the time.

Leonard: I mean it just strikes me that if DC Central Kitchen could expand twenty fold off of the people Luella that we have under supervision who do not have jobs, would have jobs. I know that’s a stretch but never-the-less it is that opportunity, the opportunity that the culinary industry offers to people under supervision. The fact that what Sarah just said and what Persus just said. The idea that the welcoming… you know… did I get it wrong?.

Persus Johnson: That’s okay.

Leonard: Correct me, correct me, correct me.

Persus Johnson: Its Persus.

Leonard: Geez, Persus. Ill probably screw it up before… I have a group of listeners from New York City who say Leonard, you cannot pronounce a name to save your life. It is an industry that welcomes all comers, which is a bit different, a lot different from a lot of other industries that welcome mat is felt by the people that we refer.

Persus Johnson: I would say that’s true. I would say that’s true.

Leonard: You know.

Persus Johnson: I think there is also an opportunity too for people who haven’t necessarily explored what they’re interested in because they have never completed anything. So this is an opportunity for them, not only to explore and be creative, but to follow through and complete something. Its not just about the food, its not just about the creativity, but its about finishing something. Its about graduating. We had a guys who graduated last week who’s mother, this was the first time his mother was able to attend something that he had completed. The first time in his life. So I think that’s an important piece of it, is this is another chance for those coming to us to follow through with the process, complete something and actually see that there are people who can care about them who are not trying to use them or who are not family members but who are committed to seeing them successfully follow through and finish.

Luella Johnson: And Leonard I don’t think you can emphasize that enough. I know Persus and Sara talks about this buy I think we really need to emphasis the fact that you have individuals who have little to no support system and now you have an entity who is willing to walk with them from beginning to end and that end does not necessarily mean the end of the program, it means the end until they are comfortable, that they can stand on their own and I think maybe that’s the key sauce in it. That they now have the support and backing of an entity that truly cares about their success and its their own internal motivation combined that allows them to be successful. I really think that, that’s an awesome awesome thing that the DC Central Kitchen as a unit does in terms of holding that individuals hand from beginning to end until they can stand on their own. That really contributes to the success and then those individuals by word of mouth are able to say hey, this worked for me, look at where I am, this can work for you and it just continues a positive process.

Leonard: Sarah do you have something?

Sarah Riley: I would just like to add that, that is so true. Everything you just said, but also our favorite phrase is trust the process. Day 1 we sat all 25 students down and we say listen, you are going to go through some hard times, you Are going to want to fight back, you are going to want to fight us basically. Trust the process and we are not kidding ourselves we know that trust is the number one issue that our students face because they have learned to survive by not trusting. So for us complete strangers telling them, hey trust us, trust the process. They are like no, no, get out of here.

So, its an uphill battle but that’s what our culinary dog training program and CSOSA, that’s what we work really closely with all of the CSO’s the community supervision officers to really show that we are supporting you. We want to see you be successful, we are here for you. We are going to make sure you make your appointments, we are going to make sure you make your urinalysis. We are going to make sure that you are here for the program every day. So they really learn to trust the process throughout the 14 weeks but it is not easy. The first couple of weeks whoo… People who want to fight.

Slowly but surely, some people fight it until they are dismissed from the program but some people make it through and say wow I cannot believe I just did this.

Leonard: Most people do make it through, that’s the astounding thing. Now is this a realistic business model again for all the people listening throughout the country and throughout the world. Is this a realistic business model to have an employer display that level of concern for an individual. I mean is DC Central Kitchen a model, part of the secret sauce for getting people caught up in the criminal justice system, for getting them employed, or is this a little unrealistic?

Sarah Riley: Well, its realistic because its real, its happening, so its realistic.

Leonard: You are successful but will an average employer take that time and take that care and take that extra four or five steps to keep that person?

Luella Johnson: I just think that’s the wrong question. I think the question is why won’t they make that commitment to that individual. Like we had talked about before, these are members of our community, these are individuals that need a second chance and the only difference between them and some of the other individuals that are not on supervision is that maybe they got caught. So the question is not is it realistic, its something that can be done, there’s no question. The question is why won’t more employers take a chance to invest in these individuals? Why won’t they take a chance to really be true members of a community?

Leonard: And when we place individual with an organization at Court Services of Offenders Supervision Agency we do provide that support network.

Luella Johnson: Absolutely.

Leonard: We do provide a support network that DC Central Kitchen employs, but we do it for them employer.

Luella Johnson: Absolutely, and so if there are any outstanding issues, like what Sarah said we work very closely with the community supervision officers as well as the vote staff, we have vocation development specialists who are able to help provide assistance to those individuals while they go through the process.

Leonard: Fifteen seconds, how do we sum up DC Central Kitchen?

Sarah Riley: A full time training program helping people get back to the workforce. I am just going to say that we use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds and build communities. That’s what we are doing at DC Central Kitchen.

Leonard: Bottom line is that you are doing it successfully.

Sarah Riley: Thank you.

Leonard: I say it again. Eighty percent completion rate and your 100 percent successful placement rate upon graduation.

Luella Johnson: Yes.

Sarah Riley: Can we get some numbers quick? For 2014 we graduated 85 students. We had 90 percent job placement rate and at 6 months eighty-six of them were still employed.

Leonard: Incredible.

Sarah Riley: Twelve dollars and fifty-one cents average wage.

Leonard: We have been doing as program today on hiring offenders and the focus has been on the phenomenal DC Central Kitchen. Sarah Riley program administration manager, Persus Johnson recruitment and intake coordinator and Luella Johnson supervisor revocation development specialist. Ladies and gentleman this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Offender Employment

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/03/improving-offender-employment-through-employer-focused-programming-national-institute-of-corrections/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, a special show for you today on offender employment with two really knowledgeable individuals. John Rakis, he is consultant to the National Institute of Corrections, he is a workforce development specialist. Also at our microphones, back at our microphones, Francina Carter, she is a correctional program specialist for the National Institute of Corrections. She’s also the program manager of Offender Workforce Development.

To John and to Francina, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Francina: Thank you.

John: Thank you.

Leonard: John, let me start with you. What is workforce development? What is workforce development within the context of employing people within the criminal justice system?

John: It’s not charity work. Workforce development in the context of the criminal justice system is about serving the needs of both, to two customers really, of the person who’s involved in the criminal justice system, the offender, and the employer. Right now, we’re shifting our focus, I think, to look at what the employer needs. We need to be examining and understanding what the employer needs are and addressing what those needs are. We’ve been very unsuccessful in the past, I think, by just pushing people out into the system without doing that.

Leonard: The whole idea is to prepare people that come out of the prison system or are on probation to give them the best preparation possible to find a job because a job is indicative of success while under supervision, correct?

John: That’s a part of it. We want to prepare people but we want to prepare people to meet the needs of the employers. We need to be focusing on what their needs are and understanding what their needs are. All too often I think we push people out and either they’re not ready for employment but even if they are ready they’re not meeting the employer’s needs, what the employer wants. That’s where the new focus is right now.

Leonard: Okay. Francina, you put together through the National Institute of Corrections a wonderful set of documents that address the employer’s need, address the offender’s needs, address the needs of everybody involved in the process, correct?

Francina: Yes.

Leonard: Okay. Tell me about those. Those are very clear-cut, very easy-to-read documents about all of the different steps that people need to take, anywhere from getting the offender prepared to go out into the work world, working in partnership with other organizations. They’re very comprehensive. Tell me about these documents.

Francina: Okay, Leonard. We really looked at developing a model. It’s a very simple four-part model. At the base of that model is using labor market information. I think too often we are preparing offenders for jobs that aren’t available in their communities. We really have to take a look at what is the labor market information telling us? What are the forecasts? What are the emerging occupations? If we’re going to be spending dollars, much needed training dollars, we need to make sure that there are viable options for employment for people who take advantage of those training programs. Everything we do, we need that base of the labor market information.

John: There are too many training programs out there where there’s a saying, “We train and pray. We train them and then we pray that we can place them.” We need to change that. That’s where labor market information is really important. There are two ways that a practitioner in the field can obtain labor market information. Much of it is on the internet. The US Department of Labor has just a wealth of information by community, by zip code, by state, any way you want to look at it. They can tell you where the growth is going to be, not only for this year but for five years down the road. That’s one of the most valuable resources that practitioners have today.

It is also important to develop relationships with labor market information specialists. Virtually every state has a labor market information specialist. Most of the one-stops that exist in our communities have people who are experts in labor market information. We urge practitioners to go out there and get on the phone, look on the internet, but meet and talk to those people. Find out in your community where the growth is going to be. Very frequently, these labor market information specialists who are based locally, they know which companies are coming into town to start a new business. They’re the ones that have the heads-up on that information. Knowing these labor market information specialists not only will help you with the long-term forecasts but it helps practitioners know what’s happening today and what’s going to be happening in the next couple of months.

Leonard: You can find the tool kits that I mentioned on the website of the National Institute of Corrections, www.nicic.gov, www.nicic.gov. One is when an employer-driven model and tool kit suggestions for employment opportunities, strategies for developing employment opportunities. It just goes on and on with the various components of the criminal justice system, preparing job-seekers for employment. The whole idea is what’s the key, what’s the secret sauce in all of this to successfully employing people who are under criminal justice supervision.

Francina: Okay. Let’s go back to the model. We mentioned labor market information as being the undergirding of this model. In the middle is the target, employment. Three components of that model are: addressing the employer needs, preparing the job-seekers, and engaging partners. All three of those are equally important.

John has already mentioned that we really need to keep the employer’s needs in focus. We look at the labor market information. We see the emerging occupations. We see where the need for employees will be. We know we need to partner with these businesses to find out what their training needs are, to make sure that the training that we’re providing for the offenders is training that is industry-recognized, industry-standard training because we know that the employers are looking at their bottom line. They need people who are going to help them to deliver the services or the products that they are producing to make their businesses grow.

When we look at the job-seekers, we need to do some assessments. We need to see what their interests are, what their skills are, and put them into appropriate training programs where they will not only be able to get entry-level jobs but they will be able to pursue additional training, additional experience so that they can advance in those jobs and that promotes job retention. We know it’s really job retention that’s going to keep people out of the prison system. It’s the job retention that’s the protective factor against recidivism.

Leonard: I do want to remind everybody that on our own website here at Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency on the front page of that website, www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov, we do have a section called “Hiring Offenders”, hiring people under supervision where we have radio and television shows where we’ve interviewed both individuals caught up in the criminal justice system as well as employers and asked them about their experience in terms of the employment process when people are out under supervision.

This is a multi-stage process. That’s the most important thing in all of this. John, it’s just not a matter, as you said, to train them and pray but it’s a matter of systematically gaining information about the labor market systematically, preparing individuals for employment systematically, working with partnerships and working with potential employers. It’s a multi-stage process to do this correctly, correct?

John: Exactly. Assessment is so important. It’s not just a quick assessment. All too often I think people are in a hurry to get things done and they don’t do a thorough assessment. One has to look at risks and needs. What are the strengths that a person has? What are the barriers that they face? As Francina mentioned, what are their interests? What are their values? You don’t want to place a person in a job where they have no interest in doing the work for the long-term. You want to give them a career ladder so you want to match them to a job that meets their interests and their values. You want to determine how well they can work as a team. How flexible are they? How adaptable are they? Do they have the ability to accept criticism? These are all things that need to go into an assessment before you even think about sending somebody out to meet with an employer.

Do the assessment, deal with every barrier that exists. I frequently tell people that it’s the barrier that you don’t address, the one that you miss, the one that you just “We’ll deal with it later”, that’s the one that’s going to cause someone to either not get a job or to lose a job in a few months. It’s so important to identify all of those barriers, address the barriers, get that person ready, identify what their interests are, and then begin to make the match.

Leonard: I’m sorry, go ahead.

John: I think the same thing holds true when one meets with employers. I’ll let you ask your question. I know you want to follow up.

Leonard: I was talking to our employment people before the radio program. They were telling me that we have comprehensive services here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in terms of both education and in terms of employment. It’s a multi-stage, very comprehensive process. Our shtick, if you will, our main approach to communicating this message is that we have people who are job-ready now. We don’t have risks to public safety. We have people who are job-ready now who need to find work. We’re encouraging employers to work with us.

They also said in many cases you have to stabilize them first before they get involved in these services. If there are mental health or substance abuse issues or other issues, anger management, you have to go through the process of fixing those issues first before getting them involved in the job preparation part of it or the education part of it. Are they right or wrong?

John: No, they’re 100% right. People have to be ready for work although the first message that I would give employers is not that we have people that are ready to work for you. The first thing that you want to actually do is listen to the employer. Find out what their needs are. All too often I think what happens is that we get people ready for work and they are ready for work, they are job-ready. Then we run out and we tell employers we have job-ready people for you. That’s not the right approach.

The right approach is listen to what the employer has to say. I’ll give you an analogy. Imagine if you walked into a car dealership and you were going to buy a sedan. A car salesman ran up to you and said, “Do I have a van for you. It’s a great van. It’s the best-selling van that we have. You’ve got to buy it.” You’d walk right out of the store because you’re not there to buy a van. You’re there to buy a sedan. He didn’t ask you what you wanted.

It’s the same thing with employers. One has to asses what their needs are, know the business really well before you make that referral. That’s where I think this tool kit … There’s a lot of emphasis in the tool kit on that, listening to what the employer has to say, understanding that employer when you go out and meet with an employer for the first time. You only have one chance to make a good first impression. You have to listen first, not sell. What are your needs? What are your hiring challenges at this point? Find out what those are and then you can start making matches.

Leonard: The question that I [crosstalk 00:11:50]. The question, either one of you, is because of the comprehensive nature of the documents that I have made reference to from the National Institute of Corrections, the multi-stage process, are probation agencies throughout the country prepared for that systematic approach to finding employment for people on supervision? Do they have the resources? We have them here at Court Services but we’re a federally funded agency. We have more resources than most. Is this level of complexity … Do most probation agencies, do they have the resources and the personnel to give this level of complexity justice?

Francina: You know Len, the most important thing is people need to look at partnerships. None of us can do all of this work by ourselves. I think most agencies look within themselves to see what their capacity is and how they can do this work. That’s certainly a good place to start but then they need to look at other agencies within their community, not just government agencies but also community-based agencies, your nonprofits and your faith-based organizations. There should be an engagement of partners in this work. Partner with the workforce investment board in your area. Partner with the Chamber of Commerce. Partner with nonprofits that do much of this work. Partner with other criminal justice agencies, even educational institutions. Look at who’s offering apprenticeships and if they have apprenticeships, who offers the education component of those apprenticeships. Each agency does not have to do all of this alone. As a matter of fact, some of the best programs are those that have these multi-agency partnerships as well as a public/private partnership, so public agencies as well as private and nonprofit agencies.

Leonard: John, I’m assuming that you would agree that this is not just a job for parole and probation, it’s just not a job for community corrections, it’s a job for the entire community and it has to be approached through a partnership basis.

John: It is. One of the things that I always recommend that agencies do is map their stakeholders. Who would be interested in this? That would include employers. It would include the Chamber of Commerce. It would include the workforce investment board. Map out your stakeholders, everyone that would be concerned or interested in this work, and then reach out to them. Then develop partnerships along those lines.

Leonard: We’re just about halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce our guests. John Rakis, he is a consultant with the National Institute of Corrections. He is a workforce development specialist. We also have in our studios Francina Carter. She is a correctional program specialist and a program manager. She is program manager for the Offender Workforce Development Program of the National Institute of Corrections, www.nicic.gov., www.nicic.gov, for these amazingly good documents in terms of laying out this whole process.

Going back to either one of you, the real skill here from what I’m hearing from both of you, the real skill in all of this is having somebody in parole and probation who has those organizational skills, who has those public outreach skills, the public relations skills to pull together a rather large coalition and bring them all together and say, “We have a common problem. I can’t do this. We can’t do this on our own. Catholic charities and the local construction company and the workforce development people and everybody else involved in the process, you need to help me. We need to sit down and figure out together how we’re going to do the very best job possible to get people under supervision employed.” That’s a real skill on the part of somebody in parole and probation, is it not?

Francina: It is. It can often start as a steering committee, putting together a steering committee. John talked about mapping stakeholders, inviting those people to the table. It may just start with something pretty informal like a breakfast or a luncheon, kind of a brown-bag luncheon to talk about what the issues are, how they need to be addressed, and who needs to be at the table. A lot of jurisdictions have such steering committees and they meet on a regular basis.

Another way to start is with training. Have an opportunity for a half-day training where you bring people into the room. Oftentimes they have these same needs and they are struggling with some of these same issues. Having a training program where you really look at what are the skills needed, the competencies needed by the service providers to be able to do this work. NIC offers training programs such as re-entry employment specialists and bringing folks together in the room to share some of these common issues but also some of the common solutions to the issues. There are some ways to get some folks up to speed on how to do this in a community.

Leonard: One of the things that we’ve done here at Court Services is to get the employers themselves to sit here before these very microphones and to go into television studios and to explain the process, why they’ve hired people under supervision and the fact that it’s worked for them, to hear it directly from them. That testimony needs to come from the employers as well as the people in community corrections, right?

Francina: Absolutely.

John: One of the things that we recommend is that any program that serves the employment needs of justice-involved individuals should have an employer advisory committee. That committee should meet on a regular basis and then it should be taken … Get employers involved in that way. Many will contribute. They will let you know if you’re doing the right thing or if you’re doing something that doesn’t work for them.

Once you’ve engaged them in that activity, over time engage them as champions for your work. Get them to join you on radio shows like we’re doing today and to speak to the public about their involvement with the program and what they’re doing to make it work and how well it’s worked for them. Videotape them, if you can, and put them on your agency’s webpage, talking about their involvement with the program. Employers like to see other employers talk about how things work.

Have a page. I believe every probation agency should have a page. Every program that works with justice-involved individuals in terms of meeting their employment needs, should have a webpage dedicated to employers which sells the benefits to employers that your program has to offer. That’s where a testimonial would work really well. Use a brief video. It’s not difficult to do. Upload it to YouTube and link it to the website, the employer talking about his experience with the program.

Leonard: Having a really strong social media component to this campaign would really help.

John: Not only will it help, I think it’s mandatory at this point in time. As more and more companies get involved with social media, more and more people are getting involved with social media, it’s the way to go. It’s inexpensive. You can reach a number of different people really very, very quickly.

Most recruiters nowadays, 90% of all recruiters are using LinkedIn to identify candidates for jobs. If you’re working to get somebody a long-term career opportunity, they need to have a LinkedIn profile, perhaps not for an entry-level job but for the future, for the jobs that really pay well, pay a sustainable wage, a client must have a LinkedIn profile if he or she is going to be found by a recruiter.

A page that’s dedicated to employers, we want to get the message to employers that we have a service to provide. We have benefits to provide. Here are the candidates that we have. One of the ways you advertise that, one of the ways you market that is through the web and having a page that employers can find. I’m urging programs, if you have literature, brochures describing the services that you have to offer to employers, use QR codes. You know what QR codes are, those little square boxes that you hold your smartphone to and then it automatically connects you to the webpage. I think every brochure that’s out there marketing programs like this to employers needs to have a QR code. The QR code should take them immediately to the webpage which describes the benefits that companies, probation, parole agencies have to offer. This way, they can quickly find out what services are available, what benefits are available, and how they can connect.

Leonard: Go ahead, please.

John: We basically just have to … Time is money for employers. We really need to, if we’re going to reach out to them, we have to be efficient in the way that we do it. If we’re going to give them information, they have to obtain it as quickly as possible.

Leonard: I’ve always been under the impression or the belief that what we should also do is to put up videos of the individual offenders themselves. I think they would be in the best position to describe their own skills and their own attributes. I’ve done a lot of interviews, again both on television and radio. We have stigmas. We have stereotypes of people who are under criminal justice supervision. Those stereotypes seem to melt and seem to disappear when somebody sees the individual in a coat and tie talking about the fact that he does have a good work history and talking about his skills, talking about who he is and what he is. I think that’s something that we in the criminal justice system should be doing, not only employers but the individual people under supervision themselves.

Francina: Absolutely. I think we need to show our success stories. We need to see people who have been the product, the beneficiaries of some of these training programs who have successfully entered the world of work, who are retaining employment, who are advancing on their jobs. Seeing those success stories, I think it speaks volumes. I think, like you said, it dispels some of the myths, some of the stereotypes about people who have a criminal record. They can serve as role models for other individuals who are just starting their path and just starting to get into the world of work. It’s almost, “If I see you … If you can do it, I can do it.” I think it’s very important to highlight our participants who have been successful.

Leonard: I’ve also talked, once again, to the people who are job developers here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. They tell me that the bias against people caught up in the criminal justice system is strong. The fact that they’ve had very employable individuals, people who there’s no reason, absolutely no reason for that person not to be employed. The person hasn’t had a drug-positive in a long time. The person hasn’t had any problems under supervision. The person has real skills from the past. We’ve even had people with college degrees under our supervision and yet the barrier to employment in terms of the stereotype of people who are caught up in the criminal justice system, they say it’s one of the most difficult things that they have to deal with. Either one of you want to comment on that?

John: It’s a challenge. It always will be a challenge. It has been a challenge. It’s improving, I think. What’s important is developing those relationships with employers. It takes time, understanding what their needs are, meeting their needs. Over time, you will build trust. That’s what it takes to work in this field. Nothing happens overnight. As I said, you approach the employer, you make a good impression the first time by listening to what they have to say, hearing what their needs are, meeting those needs. Over time, then people trust you. When people trust you, they’ll accept referrals. It’s all about trust but trust takes time to build. There’s no shortcuts to this.

Leonard: Go ahead, John.

John: You can prepare people well, obviously identifying all the barriers, doing the proper assessment, making sure that they’re ready for employment. One of the things that I always like to recommend, encourage the person coming out of prison to do some volunteer work, put that on their resume. Even if it’s only for a few hours a week, it’s something that shows the employer that they’re keeping busy while they’re searching for employment and that they’re contributing back to society. They’re doing something that’s positive. It always reflects well. It doesn’t matter who that person is. That goes for people that even aren’t ex-offenders that are looking for work above the age of fifty-five. Put something on your resume that shows that you’ve been active and that you’re contributing to your community. That will reflect well and that increases the odds that you will be called in for an interview.

Leonard: In terms of developing the relationship with the employers, again, I talked to our six workforce development people, our job developers, within Washington DC it’s almost impossible to reach out to every employer in Washington DC. In some cases, you may find “X” company is receptive in terms of that company’s executive but the branch offices may not be. Forming that bond, forming that relationship with all employers when you’ve got six people is almost impossible. Are we not talking about something larger in terms of engaging them, John? We were talking a little while ago about social media, talking about doing this systematically, it’s really hard to one-by-one-by-one to every employer within the metropolitan area to reach out to them personally.

Francina: I think a couple-

John: You could do things like, for example in St. Louis, the federal probation office developed a public service announcement video that was aired on TV. It actually featured the mayor of St. Louis and four probationers, federal probationers, who spoke to the camera about their success. That was Mayor Francis Slay. I believe the video is still out there on the internet, a simple thing that had ramifications city-wide.

Leonard: That’s a great idea. Francina?

Francina: A couple of things come to mind. One is the Ban the Box Initiative that is really taking hold in a lot of jurisdictions. What Ban the Box means is that a lot of cities and some jurisdictions are taking off that question about have you ever been convicted of a felony from the application. It doesn’t mean that the question can’t be asked later. All offenders should be rehearsed and prepared to be able to respond very directly to that question. At the same time, it moves it further along in the process, in the hiring process, so they get their foot in the door. They get to show who they are. They get to talk about their skills and their abilities and what they bring to the table.

The other important thing, I think, is a good job match, to make sure that the kinds of employment opportunities that are out there fit not just the individual’s interests and skills but also the criminal record so that there’s nothing that would prohibit them through any kind of statutory requirements or licensure requirements that would prohibit them from seeking that kind of employment, making sure that there’s a good job match in the kind of work that the candidates are going for.

Leonard: Final minutes of the program. Go ahead.

Francina: Those are just a couple of things that help a little bit to reduce that barrier. We talked about the success stories, even employers and their testimonials, breakfast, an awards breakfast for employers who have been successful in hiring and retaining individuals who have criminal record and telling their stories. All of these are ways that we start to mitigate that big barrier of having a criminal record.

Leonard: Okay. We also have tax credits and the bonding program, correct?

Francina: Absolutely.

Leonard: There are direct incentives for employers. Okay, final minute of the program. Bottom line behind all of this is that this is not an academic discussion, this is a public safety issue. This is a matter of putting people who are caught up in the criminal justice system into jobs, becoming taxpayers, not tax burdens, supporting their kids. Much rests upon this, correct?

Francina: Absolutely. We know that employment actually stabilizes people. If a person is in the community and he has employment or she has employment, they’re able to take care of their families. They’re able to pay their fines. They’re able to pay their taxes. They’re able to find housing. For any of us, employment really is a stabilizing factor in our lives so we are talking about public safety when we’re talking about employment.

Leonard: Our research shows that they do much better under supervision if they are employed. John, do you have any final wrap-up words, thirty seconds worth?

John: It’s not only the offenders that are being assisted but it’s their families. Many, as you know, a high percentage of the people coming out of prison that are on probation and parole have family members. If we can help them get back to work, their families will do better as well.

Leonard: It’s a fascinating conversation. Ladies and gentlemen, by our microphones today, via Skype, John Rakis. He is a consultant through the National Institute of Corrections. He’s a workforce development expert. Also, we had Francina Carter, correctional program specialist, program manager of the Offender Workforce Development. The documents that we mentioned today are available at www.nicic.gov, www.nicic.gov. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

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Successful Reentry Through Employment-Transcript

DC Public Safety Television

See the main site at  http://media.csosa.gov.

See the television show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2016/03/successful-reentry-through-employment/

Hi and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Nancy Ware. Today’s show focuses on successful reentry through employment. Criminologists recognize that employment is crucial to successful reentry.

CSOSA understands that we have to do everything in our power to prompt employers to hire those we supervise. If you have questions or suggestions about CSOSA as a source for hiring, please call 202-220-5721 to talk to our employment specialists. We will post this number throughout the program.

To discuss this important issue, joining us today is the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, Deborah Carroll.

Director Carroll, welcome to Public Safety.

Thank you for having me.

First, I want to talk a little bit about your vision for the Department of Employment Services and the implications it has for those that we supervise, folks who are coming back from prison or who are under community supervision.

So my vision actually is to really build a system. Right now, the programs within the District of Columbia work within our silos and we do that fairly well, but in order for us to really an effective work force system we have to work closer together. That means reducing some of the duplication that happens across some of the agencies, making certain that businesses are aware of the services and the talent that we have in the District and communicating that better to the public. Then third, of course, making sure that folks have access to our services and systems. So what the means for CSOSA and the clients that you serve as well other returning citizens in the District is that being more accessible is going to be key to any success and ensuring that we have quality programs and services that can serve that.

One of the programs that we really found to be extremely helpful for our folks under supervision is Project Empowerment, but I know you have several other programs that you’re about to put in place that you’d like to share with our audience. I’d certainly like to hear more about them and the implications for the opportunities for those that we serve.

I’ll start with Project Empowerment. Project Empowerment is a program that’s been in place since 2002. The District has served more than 10,000 returning citizens and other hard-to-hire residents in the District. Typically these are individuals that have historically cycled on and off jobs and had difficulty retaining their jobs or because of their characteristics have had difficulty accessing employment.

What’s really important about this program is there’s a three week intensive that happens prior to putting anyone on a worksite. That three week intensive really focuses in on what those barriers are to the person being successful in employment. It helps them to deal with workplace related stress and how to handle that better. It focuses in on career pathways and understanding what their career goals are and really helps them to establish a roadmap to success.

It’s then followed by up to six months of work-related subsidized employment. We have a number of businesses that support returning citizens and others in the workplace. During that time period, that resident has an opportunity to demonstrate their skills while earning a wage at the same time.

What we have found historically is that programs like subsidized employment or programs that provide some kind of stipend tend to have better results in terms of longevity and completion rates in the program. I think what’s really critically important is that for residents that have trouble retaining jobs having a period of steady work experience that they can put on their resume is critically important and at the same time learning a skill in the work place.

So we’ve taken the successes of Project Empowerment and then tried to replicate certain other programs maybe from other populations or maybe even the same population but different variations of the same theme. My history is, of course, working with families and in analyzing the successes and the challenges around individuals that have children in particular is the problem with having steady work histories. When a business is trying to make a decision about a candidate, if they see someone with sporadic employment then a person that has good employment, obviously they’re going to pick the person that has a steady employment.

So during the time that I was working in that space, we really realized that  work experience is really critical. Also earning and learning at the same time is also critical because we found through our data analysis that residents sometimes will stop a program, whether it be educational program or other type of training program, because they need to support their families or they need to support their household.

We don’t want residents to have to be put in a decision of making a choice between getting their GED or a credential that can propel them to the middle class to having to find employment. So Project Empowerment and programs like that are the direction that we’re heading in.

One of the new programs that we’re working on is the Career Connections program. That program, in particular, is critically important because it’s part of our Safer Stronger D.C. initiative with the mayor. We’re doing that in particular. We’re targeting justice-involved youth aged 20 to 24 and specifically in the priority police service areas in the District. That’s going to be our priority group that we’re going to be focused on.

Through this investment, about $4.5 million was invested by the city, we are going to be working very closely with CSOSA as well as other organizations that serve justice-involved youth to really both identify youth and provide them with a suite of professional development services including programs similar to what Project Empowerment offers along with a period of work experience. Within that program, we will be providing incentives for those residents to also pursue their education. So we’re combining, again, some of the good things we know coming out of the Project Empowerment program and then marrying it up with a younger population that oftentimes needs education to help support them through their career path.

That population is, as you know, one of the areas that we really want to focus much more attention on in the District of Columbia because we have a number of programs. Some are youth employment, but they really need steady income so I think that those are real innovations that will help our city substantially, in particularly with this population.

I’m really excited about it because there are also other initiatives that we’re going to fold in to both Project Empowerment and the Career Connections program. That’s, of course, the Tech-Hire Initiative.

The Tech-Hire Initiative is an initiative through partnership, again, with CSOSA and other organizations we’ll be working with youth and teaching them the skills that will help them to build a pathway in the IT industry. Many youth now are very tech savvy. They oftentimes have cell phones. They use the internet. Those are skills that they already have. We want to be able to introduce the concepts of A+ certification and network administration along with maybe cyber security and ethical hacking. All of those programs have certifications where a person can complete them, demonstrate their work experience, and have the potential to earn a living wage and definitely move into a pathway of the middle class.

That’s great because I know that the whole field of IT and technology is an open field. If we can get some of our folks involved in that and learning at a young age and building on the skills that they already have and the knowledge that they already have, that would be substantial.

Yeah, I think that the work force development industry is changing. It’s changing in a good way, in the sense that it’s now understanding better what businesses need. It’s also projecting what we need for the future and of course, IT is one area that the United States as a whole needs better expertise in and there’s no reason why our friends coming out of CSOSA’s program or any of our other programs shouldn’t be a part of that.

The other thing is that people usually learn better when they’re doing. There’s been this myth, I think, that long-term unemployed residents don’t have the skills to be successful in the work place. I can tell you now just from my short experience with DOES and some of the youth that I’ve seen coming through the programs and the people that I’ve encountered that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It’s our job to make sure that we profile them to the public and to businesses in a way that shows that they can actually be successful and build better relationships with business and have different support mechanisms in place that allow for businesses to thrive while they’re working with residents and helping them to be successful in the work place.

Again, these earn-and-learn opportunities I think is one way to do that. The other is expanding our on the job training resources, being able to provide support to businesses that hire residents, making sure that they’re aware of the work opportunity tax credits and other incentive programs that the IRS have provided to businesses that hire the harder to employ citizens in this country.

Are you finding that a lot of the businesses are taking advantage of those incentives?

There is a growing interest, I think, in the subsidized employment space. Borrowing what we’ve learned from summer youth employment this year and the success we’ve had in getting residents that are in that 22 to 24 year old range placed in jobs. We’re finding really a growing interest in that. In particular because that’s an age group where you have a certain level of maturity that allows them to be open to learning. What we’re finding is that they’re not squandering those opportunities. They’re coming to work on time. They’re doing the things that are necessary for them to be successful in the work place.

I think it’s exciting that you’re dispelling some of those myths about our young people and their interest in employment and their willingness to do what they need to do to maintain those jobs. A lot of times they do need a lot of help and coaching and those kinds of things. Are there any plans within DOES in terms of working with young people to make sure that they stay in those jobs?

So we’re making sure that we provide the supportive services in the program. I think what’s going to be unique about Career Connections and what we’re also changing in our Project Empowerment program is that follow-up after they’ve been employed. Our goal is to have them retain those jobs at least for a year because if they do that then typically they’re on their way to being able to really be successful in that job. So we’ve heard definitely from businesses that sometimes those first few months are the most difficult.

Then also looking at any gaps that are available in the system that we can add support. A good example is transportation. There are some areas of the city where transportation is more difficult depending on where you have to go to go to work or what time you have to be at work. A good example is construction and they start at five in the morning. If you have children, there’s no child care available or not as many child care slots available in places that open at five a.m. so what do you do in order to make sure that your children are taken care of. That’s just one example.

Those are important aspects of maintaining a job. Certainly our partnership with the Department of Employment Services offers another resource through CSOSA to support some of the work that you’re doing. We’re very excited to have you here in the city. Are there any other initiatives for older individuals in the District that you want to discuss?

One area that we are focusing on is looking at ways that we can expand the subsidized employment to older residents and really building the similar model that we have in both the Project Empowerment program as well as the youth program for our seniors and those 35 and up range. Those are things that we’re looking to leverage right now.

We have the LEAP Academy which again is focused on younger people but in our work that we see in the District we have a lot of talented residents that want to either get back into the work force or are looking to increase their employment. They may be underemployed. So we’re really being mindful of that as one of our areas of focus.

The other is our professionals that are looking for employment and having a different suite of services available for them. Most times they don’t stay unemployed for very long. We do have some though that have been maybe caring for family members that have been sick and have been out of the work force for a while and need to get back into the work force. Others that are looking for different career paths as they transition out of unemployment. We’re trying to develop a whole suite of services connected to them.

We’re excited about all of those opportunities. Surprisingly, we have every single one of those types of individuals so we’ll be taking advantage of everything that you have to offer. We look forward to working with you and letting us know how we can support the work that you’re doing here in the District of Columbia.

On that note, I’m going to wrap up our first segment. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my pleasure to talk to Deborah Carroll, the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services. Stay with us for the next segment as we continue our discussion on employment and successful reentry with two new guests.

Thank you so much Director.

Hi and welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Nancy Ware. We’re continuing our conversation on successful reentry through employment in the second segment with two employers who have hired people under the supervision the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.

My guests for this segment are Marianne Ali, director of training D.C. Central Kitchen, and Omar McIntosh, CEO of Perennial Construction.

Marianne and Omar, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Thank you.

Thank you.

I’d like to start this segment off just asking you to tell us a little bit about what you do and then we’ll talk a little bit about the work that you do with our clients. So why don’t I start off with you Marianne?

Sure, Nancy. Thank you. My name’s Marianne Ali, and I’m the Director of Culinary Job Training for D.C. Central Kitchen. We run four culinary job training programs at the Kitchen, three at another location working with a local partner. We work with a lot of returning citizens, and we have a longstanding relationship with CSOSA that I’m really excited to talk about.

I can’t wait because you all have done an outstanding job in working with some of our clients.

Mr. McIntosh?

Thank you. Perennial Construction is a Washington D.C.-based commercial general contractor. We also have self-performed capabilities in structure repair and restoration and commercial demolition. We have had a great relationship with CSOSA and hired up to about 50 individuals over the last year and a half in our self-performed crews.

Excellent. I think it’s really important to talk a little bit about how long you’ve been hiring men and women under supervision and what your experiences have been. I’d like to hear a little bit about some of the challenges that you’ve faced and some of the success stories. I’ll start of this time with you Leo.

Certainly. I think that we started in early ’14, we had a labor need on a project. I went to my community resources and I met Mr. Tony Lewis with Project Empowerment. Through Tony we had a table of about 12 eager individuals, and I think that we hired every one of them for a specific project. Of that crew, I think four are still with us to this day. One has risen to the ranks for foreman. He’s a crew leader right now on a project in Washington D.C. So we’ve had great success. Our crew is led by three individuals who we all found through CSOSA and Project Empowerment. We also have a great network now to go back to CSOSA and vet and train new employees.

Excellent. And Marianne?

D.C. Central Kitchens has been in existence for 25 years. Since its inception, we have always worked with returning citizens. I think that our relationship with CSOSA has been at least 15 years of my tenure that we’ve worked closely with you all.

The organization itself has about 140 employees and 42% of those employees are graduates of our culinary job training program. About 50% of those folks are directly from CSOSA so we are excited about that.

Great. We are excited too obviously.

Some of the challenges that you’ve faced, if any, that you can share with our audience?

You know Nancy, when you think about culinary job training or culinary you think about food but our approach is we can teach folks how to cook but we really understand the challenges that our folks come in to us with. So we address each and every, well the majority of those challenges. We start off every morning with a self-empowerment group that has absolutely nothing to do with cooking at all but everything to do with changing your thinking and your behavior. That group is really, really helpful. At our graduations, folks are always talking about cooking was fine but this is what really helped me.

We also offer a transition group that’s specifically for folks that have just come home in the last year and a half and have those challenges, having to balance their time, reunifying with their family, child support, to really sort of help them navigate through those challenges successfully. Because those are the kind of things that people get tripped up on and we want to make sure that we help them manage that in a way that they don’t go back, that they don’t recidivate.

We also have a women’s group, gender specific that talks about challenges with being under supervision, sometimes it’s getting your children back and those kind of things. So we look for every area that there may be a need for that support and we just infuse it into what we do on a normal everyday.

That’s so important too because you know how hard it is a lot of times for the folks that come under supervision, particularly if they’ve been incarcerated for a period of time, to reintegrate successfully and to navigate, quite frankly, the community again.

Leo, can you talk a little bit about challenges that you might have seen? The folks that you’ve worked with?

Sure. I think in construction a lot of our success is based on our ability to react. When a client calls or has a need, we have to respond in a timely manner, we have to perform in a timely manner. So when it comes to our CSOSA hires it’s been about getting to work. That’s the first challenge. So employees who haven’t been working gainfully for years or weeks at a time, the cost. There’s a Metro card that has to be purchased and it has to take about two weeks before they get their first paycheck.

We have gone above and beyond our requirements by providing Metro cards. I keep smartcards. I keep them reloaded at all times in my office. We hand them out to new employees and they give them back to me on their first payday. I shake their hand and we exchange the paycheck for the card. It sounds simple but it’s necessary. We’ve had instances where individuals couldn’t get to work and you can imagine if you’ve been away from society for ten years, the concept of the metro, the taxi cab, or the bus is a little far out of reach. We’ve stepped in where there weren’t answers to provide those solutions. Yes it causes us to have a little higher margin on our work but hopefully our clients respect our work and will pay for those services.

Absolutely. I think it’s incredible that both of you all have taken the time to consider those issues and to try to address them like you have. Are there any incentives to hiring men and women who’ve been under supervision or who are coming back to society from incarceration?

Absolutely. We’re aware of many federal and local programs, even the tax abatement programs are available to us, but more importantly there’s a labor need in the city. There’s lots and lots of work in construction, infrastructure, industrial side, and we’re focusing very sharply on those areas. Where there’s a need, we’re trying to fill it. We’re trying to get our folks to work as soon as possible. There are programs. There are benefits. But more importantly there’s a need and a need to develop these individuals, all individuals with a positive attitude that want to work hard.

Excellent. Marianne?

Sure. Our approach is to work with our employers on the tax incentives. We have a huge employer base that we try to get involved into working with our students, our graduates.

One of the things that really is a consideration I suppose when you’re working with folks under our supervision are their criminal history and how difficult it is for them actually to get opportunities. What advice could you give to someone who’s reentering Washington D.C. or who is under supervision but has a criminal history in terms of seeking employment?

We advise our graduates to be honest but we also advise them to talk about what they are doing now, what they have done since they’ve come home, that they’re honest, that they’re eager to work, they have a great attitude. Nancy, we’ve had chefs come into the kitchen on a regular basis and the number one question and answer that we ask those chefs, “What do you look for?” And they’re looking for somebody, they’re not looking for somebody with a bunch of skills, they’re looking for somebody who is eager and has a great attitude.

That’s the critical piece right there.

I can’t emphasize this enough. I’ve hired pretty much every individual on our crew directly. I’ve spoken to them at length about what our expectations are, expectations of our clients, and expectations of their peers. I’ll tell you that we’ve had tremendous success because they respect their peers and they work together. Now that we’ve had two years working together as a field performance crew, there is a natural pecking order, and it’s seeming to work out for us at this point. So the attitude is a tremendous part of the hiring requirement. Not so much in your past but where you’re headed and how hard you’re willing to work getting there.

So critical. One of the things that we’d like to encourage more employers to do is consider this population. As an employer looking for someone, how would you encourage other employers like yourselves to consider this population? What kinds of things would you ask them to make consideration of for this hiring process as an employer?

I would say expectations need to change. I say that because a lot of employers expect you to walk in learning how to use the full suite of Microsoft tools and you’ve got a cell phone and you’ve got money in the pocket to get to work and get home. Those are not real expectations. I think that there’s a very, very large capable workforce that is serving time or under supervision right now. I would tell you that if your expectation is you’re going to help people be gainfully employed, build careers not just jobs, and have a long term sustainable career whether it’s with me or someone else that is what the expectation needs to be. From there, the rest is pretty easy.

That’s fabulous.

The way we do it at the Kitchen, Nancy, it’s a 14-week program. Our students are with for seven weeks and then they go on four weeks into an internship, then they come back to us for the last three weeks. We engage our potential employers to come to the Kitchen and be a part of the actual process, the training process. We hand pick our internship sites. We want to know that those chefs have been to the Kitchen, who understand our population, who want to give back, and want to work to help develop our students into great employees.

Both of you are extremely successful. I’ve been to your graduation Marianne and it’s so exciting to see the chefs come in, all the people that support the D.C. Central Kitchen. To just expose our folks who are under supervision to that is just incredible for their self esteem.

For you Leo, you’ve just got a number of projects in this city that you’re already involved in that you can tell our audience a little bit about if you’d like.

Out of respect for my clients, we don’t disclose most of our project sites but we do have several commercial sites under demolition and construction. Some in the Dupont Circle area and the downtown central business district as well. Our crews have traveled as far as Rock Hills, South Carolina working for public utility clients and as far north as Baltimore, Maryland on infrastructure projects. So we are very busy. We look to stay very busy and hopefully look to find a home for people in the communities we work in.

Excellent. Marianne, for you you’re working with many of the chefs, very important chefs, all around the city and the country quite frankly. You want to talk a little bit about some of those networks?

Of course there’s Jose Andres who’s a very good friend of the Kitchen, who also supports us on multiple levels. The students are exposed, for example, we just had our annual fundraiser and there were chefs there who are battling chefs competing and the students get to meet those chefs and work with, for example, Tyson’s came in. They came down to the kitchen, and the chef worked with the students. So they’re exposed on a regular basis. It’s really to get them comfortable in talking and understanding that those folks give their time because they want for you to end up working alongside them.

It has to be very encouraging and really an opportunity for you to feel that you’re giving back to the city when you’re hiring these men and women and also to watch their self esteem grow. Do you want to comment a little bit on some of the things that you’ve seen with the folks that you’ve worked with?

At the end of the program, we have a brunch that graduation morning. It’s a more intimate setting with the graduates and the staff. I’ve heard some incredible things. I’ve heard people say that they never have finished anything but a prison and now, “I’m graduating and I have a job. I’ll be able to give back to my community and come back to D.C. Central Kitchen and give back to D.C. Central Kitchen.” Women who have been able to get their children back doing the training program. It’s just incredible stories when you see folks the first day that come in and they’re sort of slouched over like this, and at the end of the program, their head is high, their eyes are open, and their shoulders are back. I can’t tell you the feeling that we get.

I’ve watched them. Omar, you’re going to end us.

I’ll tell you these stories are a labor of love but watching the progress and the levels of progress from earning your first paycheck to training a work crew to learning how to use tools and skills has been excellent.

I appreciate both of you joining us and sharing your experience and most importantly, being willing to open your heart and your businesses to this population who are very much in need of it.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my pleasure to talk to Marianne Ali and Omar McIntosh. Again, if you have questions or suggestions about using CSOSA as a source for hiring please call 202-220-5721 to talk to our employment specialists. Thank you for watching today’s show. Please watch us next time. We explore another important topic in today’s criminal justice system. Have a great day.

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Hiring Offenders on Community Supervision

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/03/hiring-offenders-community-supervision/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s program, ladies and gentlemen, is on hiring offenders throughout the United States. There’s a problem with employment with people on parole and probation supervision. Most criminologists believe that if employment levels rose it would reduce recidivism crime and would save the States tens of millions of dollars. To discuss this issue today we have three gentlemen. Charlie Whitaker, he is CEO of Career Path DC, we have Cory Laborde, he is the facilities manager for the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, and Tony Lewis, job developer for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and to Mr. Laborde and to Charlie and to Tony, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Tony Lewis:  Thanks for having us, Len.

Charlie Whitaker:  Good afternoon, sir.

Cory Laborde:  It’s my pleasure.

Len Sipes:  Gentlemen, where do we go to with this topic? I’ve talked to dozens of employers here in the District of Columbia, and in a previous life throughout the state of Maryland, who basically tell me, “I’ve got 20, 30 applicants for every job or more. Most of them or a lot of them do not have criminal histories, they don’t have criminal backgrounds. You’re asking me to hire somebody who is currently on parole and probation supervision. You want to have that discussion with me. I’m here to tell you I don’t want to hire that person, because I’ve got plenty of people to choose from who don’t come from histories of crime and who don’t come from histories of substance abuse.” How do we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and all parole and probation agencies, how are we supposed to contend with that perception?

Cory Laborde:  Right. Well, Len, let’s just jump straight into it. My name is Cory Laborde. Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Cory Laborde:  Well, for one, when I’m hiring somebody, when I’m interviewing somebody, I’m not interviewing somebody based off their past, I’m interviewing them and hiring them based off what they can give the company going forward in the future. Now, past is important, because you have to look at past behavior to see whether or not that may play a conflict with inside your organization. But, however, just because someone is being interviewed who does not have a past, a criminal background, let’s be precise, doesn’t mean that he’s the best person for that job. We may have somebody who may a past offense, may have done something in his past that he’s ashamed of, he put it behind, he or she put it behind them, but they may be the best person for the job that you’re interviewing that person for. They probably have experience in that line of work, they probably a career that they’ve already done before they made that offense. So I don’t want to have a blind eye saying, “I will not hire this person just because they made a mistake 15, 10 years ago.”

Len Sipes:  You’re trying to get the very best person for the job regardless of that person’s background.

Cory Laborde:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Okay. Because it does seem to me, Charlie, that what we have is a conundrum. We’re not asking anybody to hire sex offenders for daycare centers. We’re not asking anybody to hire somebody who’s been convicted of fraud to handle money in a bank. But what we are doing is talking about appropriate placements. We’re talking about people who are doing well. We’re talking about people who are months, if not years, from the last positive drug test. We’re talking about in many cases skilled human beings. But 50% unemployment, that’s what we have here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and when I talk to my counterparts throughout the country, that’s not unusual. How do we get beyond all this?

Charlie Whitaker:  Well, I think one thing is the program that you have set up here at CSOSA actually helps out a lot. I work with Tony Lewis real closely, and with the offenders that you guys send me to work with within the community, they worked out just fine based on they go through a life skills and job readiness program and we also afford the opportunity to allow our people to come and work for anywhere from three to six months in order to really just build on their skills and to just find out if they work really good with our organization. So by the time it comes time to hire these individuals, that’s why I’ve been so successful with us hiring as many people as we have hired, based on the fact that they’ve been trained, and a trained individual, regardless of their background, works out extremely well.

Also appropriate placements; I heard you speak on that. So, when someone is sent to me from CSOSA, and I think this is a best practice right here, me and Tony talk on where can they work, what type charges they have, and if he does have a sex offender for example, because even individuals who have heinous crimes need to work within our community, we’ll identify a situation where they can come and work with us and a situation where it won’t affect the rest of the public or that it was the lowest safety risk possible and the best placement for that individual.

Len Sipes:  All right, Tony, you and I have this conversation about 500 times.

Tony Lewis:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And our dilemma is, I mean we’ve just spoke to two employers here, and we’ve spoken to Charlie and Cory, and so they’re on board, are all employers out there on board?

Tony Lewis:  Absolutely not.

Len Sipes:  Okay. And so they’re not because of why?

Tony Lewis:  I think they’re not because they don’t understand that we have talent within our ranks, so to speak, and we’re not just asking for a handout. We actually have people that can come in and increase your productivity. We have people that have skill sets that match what you’re looking for. And their criminal history or criminal background doesn’t necessarily get in the way of that. But another I think the biggest impediment or barrier to it is that just from a hiring policy standpoint a lot of the companies, especially here locally in the District of Columbia, have such a broad “no felony accepted” kind of stance that it really handicaps our ability to connect our talents and people with a lot of the positions.

Mr. Laborde’s organization and Charlie’s organization have been brave enough and courageous enough to embark upon this journey with us in terms of the program where we’re able to do a transitional employment style program, where you get an opportunity to kind of test drive our talent. And they’ve seen how the individuals that we’ve sent have been able to come in and help them do what they do better and they’ve been able to bring them on full-term and full-time. And I think that’s what we look to do with many more organizations. I just wish people would show a little more flexibility in their hiring policies and look at people on a case by case basis.

Len Sipes:  We have radio and television shows on our website, it’s www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov, where it’s called “Employing People On Supervision”. And we ask people to listen to the radio shows, watch the television shows, and to contact us, to have a conversation with us regarding this whole issue. I mean if you’re not, tell us why. If you are, tell us why. But what we’re looking for is your opinion. We’re crowd sourcing this issue, we want as many people involved as possible. Tony, I’m going to go back to something that you’ve said and toss it over to Charlie and Cory. You said courageous. Now, wait a minute, that doesn’t fit. I mean we’re not saying be courageous, we’re saying that we’ve got talented, skilled people ready to go that’s going to affect your bottom line and affect the ability for you to get the job done, regardless as to whether or not they’ve a criminal history. Why is that courageous? I mean isn’t that good business sense?

Tony Lewis:  Well, it is. But when you’re talking about the stigma and the fear that comes along with people with criminal backgrounds it takes courage to be able to accept that fear and be able to take a chance. And I think any employer out there, any business out there that says, “You know what? We’re going to give somebody a second chance to live their lives in a positive way and to be able to contribute their skills and their talents to my organization.” I think they definitely are courageous. And I hope there’s a lot more courageous people out there. Or hope these two courageous guys can inspire some other business leaders and they can be an example of how things can work. And everybody that we’ve sent to either of them didn’t work out, but they didn’t allow that to necessarily sour their outlook in that one guy be a represent, that one bad apple to be a representative of the thousands of people that we have coming through our doors every day.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Tony Lewis:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  There’s information on tax credits and a bonding program, again, www.csosa.gov, right on our front page. Cory, you wanted to say something.

Cory Laborde:  Yes. Well, I wanted to shy in and just say, for one, when you’re hiring or firing somebody, you’re not hiring and firing them based off something they did 10, 15 years ago, you’re hiring and firing them based off what’s going on right now.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  You can have an individual, for one, I have maybe like 16 staff, and with all of them, men and women, different nationalities and all, all of them are trained to do something different. And when you are hiring them and you ask them to do something you may have somebody who’s never done anything as far as criminal law is concerned –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Never broke a criminal law on record.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Tony Lewis:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  And you may have another individual who probably did 10, 15 years ago, he’s ashamed of it, he’s ready to move on, he’s ready to put that behind, he’s ready to go forward.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  I learnt that dealing with CSOSA since the partnership came about, along with my organization, Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, which pastored it by a man who gave me the same type of passion, Archbishop Alfred A. Owens –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Who look at people for what they can be and not what they were.

Len Sipes:  And have a national reputation –

Cory Laborde:  Absolutely. And he’s very –

Len Sipes:  In terms of working with people in the community.

Cory Laborde:  And my pastor’s been very successful with that based on – I’ll give you an example. You may have an individual who may come up and you may hire them because they don’t have any past whatsoever.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  All right. But that person is ready to get a past, because they just didn’t get caught with some of the things they probably already done got away with.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  You may have another individual that you shun away because of his past, but he or she really do not want to do those things no more. They’re ready to move forward. They’ve already done put their hand inside the cookie jar before and got caught.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  So they dare wouldn’t do that again. So they’re ready to give you 5, 10 years, 15 years of longevity. Where you have another individual who probably still got his hand in the cookie jar, constantly put his hand in the cookie jar, he just never got caught doing. And then you wind up hiring that person based off of those circumstances and they wind up letting you down.

Len Sipes:  All right, Charlie, but, again, let’s go back to what I’ve heard from employers so many times, “I’ve got 30 people, 15 have histories, criminal histories, 15 don’t, that automatically, I’m automatically looking to hire from that group of 15 who don’t, because why not? I mean and all things being equal, I’d rather dip into the pool that doesn’t have a criminal history than those who do.” Is that a realistic expectation on the part of a business person? Should that person do that? That’s what I hear most often from the employment community.

Charlie Whitaker:  Well, I know as a small business owner I don’t think that’s relevant, because with my organization I found that CSOSA has been a great help as far as supporting us, as far as supervision, about the individuals that we work with. They have job developers, as well as job coaches. So whenever an issue is raised on the job, I can make a contact with Tony and call him and say, “Tony, well, the guy’s a couple of minutes late, been a couple of minutes late three times, four times. Can you talk to him?” Tony will talk to him and get him back on track.

However, my individuals who are not under supervision, when they’re late for work, that’s an issue for me to deal with. And it just doesn’t seem relevant at this point for me, because the support that I receive your office, CSOSA, I mean it really helps me as a small business person, because it’s money, it’s money on the table. When I got to stop doing what I’m doing to come in and talk to people about them being late for work or about the productivity and things of that nature it’s a bottom line for me. So to have CSOSA there to assist me with that it’s like having an extra supervisor on call that I could call –

Len Sipes:  There you go.

Charlie Whitaker:  And say –

Tony Lewis:  How about that.

Charlie Whitaker:  “I need some assistance today.” And believe it, they come right on over.

Len Sipes:  But that’s what we’re selling, gentlemen. I think Tony and I, we’ve been down this path dozens and dozens of times. We’re selling quality people, in many cases with real skills, with a real work history, who don’t have a substance abuse background, who have been years since their last criminal activity.

Tony Lewis:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  And I’ve had them before these microphones dozens and dozens of times. I’ve had them on television and I’ve had them on radio, and they’re sitting there in a three-piece suit and they’re skilled human beings, but they’re unemployed because 15 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, they got involved in a criminal activity, and they are completely changed people now. So what we’re pitching is don’t give us a handout, what we’re pitching is that we’re good for your bottom line.

Tony Lewis:  Absolutely. And it’s one of those things as well where you find that, again, all this stuff is really about stigma and a small percentage of individuals making mistakes that have adverse effect on many. And you have things that have happened throughout society, and then we make these so-called policies, they’re supposed to protect us from whatever happens, and then it has, again, these adverse effects. I mean even in terms of when you see things – I mean all the crazy things that I hear that happen like on the job where there’s people going postal or what have you, those typical aren’t people with criminal backgrounds. Or when you hear about – you have shows like Lock Up that’s on TV and you got these things that you see the cameras going in the prison and people have these things in the back of their mind, like, “Oh, wow!. Well, when that guy gets out of prison I wouldn’t him or her to come and work beside me.” And I really think that affects the psyche in the sense that people don’t even understand. And some people’s crimes, they don’t even have a rational relationship to the job. Like so if I had a drug offense when I was 18 and now I’m 27, why can’t I be a janitor at your business? Like where is the conflict, right? Like things – that’s just a basic example. But I think that’s what we have to do. Companies have to look at the people on a case by case basis.

Len Sipes:  Both Charlie and Cory mentioned it. And that is, is that when you hire somebody who is under our supervision, you get Tony Lewis, you get other people that work along the side of Tony Lewis who will intervene, help you out. You get the community supervision officer, otherwise, throughout –

Tony Lewis:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Known as a parole and probation agent.

Tony Lewis:  A vocation development specialist.

Len Sipes:  Vocational development specialist. You have a team who will help you deal with whatever comes up in terms of that individual. Well, you get tax credits; you get a bonding program, because –

Tony Lewis:  That protects you.

Len Sipes:  That really does protect in terms of your own liability. So there are assets at our disposal, at your disposal, to hire people. And again, the emphasis is not somebody fresh out of prison. We’re not talking about the sex offender in the daycare center. We’re talking about people with real skills who are months, if not years away from their last substance abuse history, months, if not years away from their last crime, but we have a 50% unemployment problem. So that stigma, getting beyond that stigma is proving to be very difficult. Charlie or Cory, you want to weigh in on this, that stigma?

Cory Laborde:  I want to give – I’m going to – I may come off subject a little bit, but I’ll go back to it.

Len Sipes:  All right.

Cory Laborde:  I had a situation. We had in DC we’ve been not so blessed with this heavy snow this winter.

Charlie Whitaker:  Yeah. Right.

Cory Laborde:  Very unexpected winter. So I have employees, and dealing with this snow, and I had the center employees. I had the relationship I got with CSOSA and some individuals they sent me. But one stuck to mind. Her name was Monica Womack, a female. And we got the snow detail going on. And the center employees, they’ve been there for a few years; they know what time they’re supposed to be at work, they know the routine, etc. Here’s a young lady just came about with the program. She’s ready to work. She calls me at 11:00 at night on my personal phone, “Mr. Cory, what time can you use me? What time I can be to work? What time do I need be to work, etc. etc.?” I said, “Well, monitor your phone. I would love to have your help out of there. Dealing with the snow we can never have enough help.”

Len Sipes:  That’s right.

Cory Laborde:  Anyway, I sent out the e-mail and said what time everybody’s expected to be to work. I get there an hour early before the crew. Don’t you know this young lady was there waiting on me.

Len Sipes:  There you go.

Cory Laborde:  Public transportation was not even running that morning. She walked from Maryland Avenue all the way to Rhode Island Avenue –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Just so she can be to work on time.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Now, I share that story to say I looked at this individual and said, “This is the individual I would hire when the program is up.”

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Because you’re showing me that you really want to work. Never mind the fact of what she did 15, 20 years ago, even if it was three years ago. I don’t have to always use the word ten, that can be five years ago.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  But she’s ready to change. And you can have individuals that may be a decorated soldier, he may be a decorated soldier, he probably went to Iraq and fought for our country. And he probably came back home and got into a drunken bar fight defending his little sister or defending his wife or something and he hit somebody and he got a simple assault charge. Does that mean that this person is not capable of being an engineer? Does that mean he’s not capable of working at your facility because he made a mistake that one time? So you have to have a broader mind and look past some of these things.

Len Sipes:  We’re more than halfway through the program. Today’s program is on hiring offenders. We have Charlie Whitaker, CEO of Career Path DC; we have Cory Laborde, the facilities manager for the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, one of the most renowned religious organization in our area, and well known throughout the world and through the Unites States, rather; and Tony Lewis, job developer for CSOSA, talking about what it takes to get people that we currently have under supervision, what it takes to get them hired.

The issue is, is that for every person sitting in this room and every person listening to this radio show today, we’ve all had our problems in the past. I won’t speak for the three of you, but certainly I have done things way back in my youth that if I was caught maybe I would’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system. And I’ve always said that my first encounter in the criminal justice system was being arrested. So the point is, is that all of us could suffer a fate that hangs over our heads for the rest of our life. If what we’re saying is true, then it is a stigma. If 50% of our folks are unemployed, then what Tony is saying is true, that people cannot get beyond the fact that that person was caught up in the criminal justice system, people cannot get beyond that stereotype.

And that bothers me, because if we don’t give individuals an opportunity, then that means the greater chance for them to go back into the criminal justice system. That means a greater chance for more crime. And that has a real cost of literally tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars for states throughout the United States in terms of taking somebody back in the criminal justice system who may not be there if they were employed. The research is pretty clear that the more they’re employed the better they do. So isn’t it in everybody’s collective best interest to look beyond that criminal charge and to take a hard look at that person in terms of making that decision as to who to hire?

Charlie Whitaker:  Yes. That’s true. And just speaking on that stigma, just speaking on that stigma piece, many times people do look at people that are coming back to the community from being incarcerated as untrustworthy and things of that nature. But you got to look at this thing from this point of view; a lot of people that I work with, this is their last chance. When they come to me and they feel like this is their last chance at putting their life back on track. So these individuals they’re not going to do anything to go back to jail. And the process that they go through to determine whether they’re coming into our program is a lengthy process. So by the time they get to us it’s like these are the best individuals for the job. So they’re hardworking, they’re dependable, they’re loyal. These are the individuals that came in every time it snowed. These are the guys that came to the job.

Len Sipes:  Because they understand that they’re not in a position to jump from one job to the other –

Charlie Whitaker:  There you go, absolutely, there you go.

Len Sipes:  That this is one of the few chances that they’re going to get, thereby, they turn out to be pretty good employees. Go ahead, Cory.

Cory Laborde:  Right. Yeah. I’ve been so impressed with some of the individuals that came through the CSOSA program that I definitely want to make sure I point this out before we end this –

Len Sipes:  Go ahead.

Cory Laborde:  Is that I actually hired a few of them. I just didn’t have them come through the program and said, “Okay, send me another 10 people, send me another 15 people.”

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  I called Tony and said, “Look, how long more this guy got or this woman got –?”

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  “Before her program is up?” There’s been a few conversations we’ve had like this.

Tony Lewis:  Yeah, several.

Cory Laborde:  And he may say, “Well, I’m looking at it now and so and so may graduate in two months.” or whatever. I said, “Well, I can’t wait that long. I want to hire him. I got a position open. I don’t know how long this window’s going to stay open. I want to hire him.” Because and then I don’t want to put a stigma on them and say they’re only good for cleaning or they’re only good for housekeeping. I have one guy now that we’re training to be an engineer inside our organization, because he’s shown that he has handyman skills. He’s proven himself above and beyond. So you can look at these individuals and put a stigma all you want, but you have to ask yourself, it could be your nephew, it could be your niece, it could be your son, that made a mistake when they was 15, 17, 18 years old and do you want them to still have that on them when they get older?

Len Sipes:  Right now you’re going to be talking to, you are talking to congressional aides, you’re talking to aides to mayors, you’re talking to aides to county executives, you’re talking to aides to governors, you’re talking to criminal justice leadership, but you’re talking to a lot of people who have input in terms of policy throughout the country. What would you say directly to them, to that, right now, to that congressional aide, to that aide to the governor of Arizona? What do you say to that person to move people beyond this stereotype of people in the criminal justice system?

Cory Laborde:  Well, that’s a question I would love to answer, for those that are listening that are in positions to make decisions. The first person come to my mind is a young man I hired through the program. His name was Kenneth Trice. Kenneth came about through the CSOSA program and he was just looking for a chance. And he was so appreciative of the chance that he didn’t want do anything to do wrong. And he impressed us so that we hired him, we had a part-time position came open, and we hired him for the part-time position. And shortly right after the part-time position, it wasn’t even a cool three months, a full-time position came open and he was a candidate for it.

Why I’m sharing this story about Kenneth. I remember Kenneth came inside my office one time, Len, and he was very disturbed, he was going through some stuff with his children’s mother and he was trying to move on with himself. And he got two little girls. This is why I’m talking to the people who make decisions. Those two little girls, they now have a father that can bring something and go Christmas shopping because he got a decent check, an honest check that he can bring it home. So now the people who are making decisions, who was changing laws, who’s changing legislations, look at it, you’re not just helping that one person, you’re helping the people that’s behind them that’s coming next, because it’s the domino effect.

Now that Kenneth can come and make honest living, he can come and do something for these two little girls, he’s now giving them the opportunity to maybe potentially be nice young ladies coming into society. Now, if it was the opposite way, it would’ve been Kenneth being bad, the two girls being bad. Now you got three individuals inside a community that’s a threat to society. Instead you’ve got three individuals inside the community that are actually being a good to the society based off the CSOSA program.

Len Sipes:  Charlie, do you want to take a shot at that? You’re now talking to the aide to the governor of Hawaii.

Charlie Whitaker:  Well, unemployment is a public safety issue and that’s how I attack it when I’m working with people. And I would like for them to see it that way. That an individual who’s working is less likely to commit a crime. Individuals who’re out here and without employment, who’re struggling day to day, living in poverty, those are the individuals who in most instances would take that chance that’s going to send them back to jail and hurt other people’s families. So when you look at employment it’s a lot cheaper to give a person a job paying 13, 14 dollars an hour so that they can take care if their family than the government paying 40, 50, 000 dollars a year to incarcerate this person. And now the government not only got to take care of this person, but now they got to take care of this person’s family.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Charlie Whitaker:  So when you look at it from at the bottom line it’ll come out a lot cheaper for everybody. And I don’t really want to talk about the human side of it, because that’s something totally different. But there’s a human side to this thing too. When you got an individual who’s trying to take care of their families, and there’s no way that they can do it legitimately, so now they turn to something that can get them incarcerated, and now they’re taken away from their family. And this also costs, not just the community, but it costs everybody, because now our taxes go up and things of that nature.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Charlie Whitaker:  So think this is something that policymakers really got to look at. If you really want to bring down the deficit, let’s do things where we can create jobs for individuals instead of building prisons.

Len Sipes:  Gentlemen, we only have four minutes left in the program. Tony, I’m going to go to you. I’m talking now about 20 years ago I sat with a group of people caught up in the criminal justice system in the state of Maryland and it was about 20 of them. And I met them in the evening and we were talking about work. And I think that probably 17 out of the 20 were unemployed. These individuals were certainly not a risk to public safety. All of them had skills, all of them had backgrounds, and yet the frustration that they expressed of not being able to find work was strong. And they essentially told me, “Look, Leonard, if we don’t find work, what’s to stop us from going back to doing what we used to do?”

Tony Lewis:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  I mean it was powerful, it was strong, and it was depressing all at the same time, because these people were not a threat to public safety. What do you say to folks under supervision? What do you say to folks to keep their spirits up and to keep them moving in the right direction?

Tony Lewis:  I’m a big believer in hope. And I point to examples, I point to the Kenny Tracies or the Monica Womacks of the world. I speak to the importance of being resilient and remaining steadfast to hold on until the opportunity comes. And we also bring up definitely what’s the alternative. And we bring up those children, right, and the risk of leaving them again, and that they need you in spite of, you know? And I think one of the things for this country we really got to think about this though. We’re the number jailer in the world. There’s two million people incarcerated, and 90% of that two million will return to the community. It’s imperative that we create systems that will allow those people to integrate back into the workforce so that – I mean there’s 1.7 million children with an incarcerated parent that’s under the age of 18. So these are really, these are issues that affect education; these are issues that affect public safety. So, and we talk to our clients and our job seekers in a way in which we keep them in tune with how they affect how society works. And so that’s how we keep them motivated to stay positive.

Len Sipes:  Charlie and Cory, we only have a little bit less than a minute. What do you tell employers? You’re looking somebody right in the eye through this program. What do you tell employers, how is hiring folks from CSOSA, from parole and probation throughout the country, how is it going to affect their bottom line?

Cory Laborde:  Right. Well, I look at it like this. Hire the best person for the job, period, the best person for the job, period. Not based off what they did 15, 10, 5 years ago, based off what you need for your organization, what’s the position that needs to be fulfilled, and find the best candidate .

Len Sipes:  Got it.

Cory Laborde:  Regardless of their past.

Len Sipes:  Do not let the criminal history stand in the way of giving that person –

Cory Laborde:  Absolutely not.

Len Sipes:  An objective, appraisal –

Cory Laborde:  Because you could be letting go a key person for their organization.

Len Sipes:  One of your best employees.

Cory Laborde:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  Charlie, give me your 30 second response.

Charlie Whitaker:  I just believe that people deserve a second chance. So in my organization, primarily 95% of my people are returned citizens. And I also believe that at the end of the day, we’re all people, and there’s a people aspect to this thing, and we got to think anybody who’s not working and wants to take care of their family in my eyes is a threat to public safety. So when we cut off those opportunities to individuals we create those issues.

Len Sipes:  Our guests today have been Charlie Whitaker, CEO of Career Path, and Cory Laborde; he is the facilities, he’s from the facilities, facilities manager for the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, and Tony Lewis, job developer for CSOSA, our website, www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for listening. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Employing Ex-Offenders

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/02/employing-ex-offenders/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the show topic today is Employing Ex-Offenders. We have two people under our supervision here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and a Job Development Specialist to talk about this whole process of employing people caught up in the criminal justice system. We have Kenyan Blakely; he is with the Department of Human Resources, the DC Department of Human Resources as a Support Services Assistant. We have Kenneth Trice; he is with the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. He is with Facilities. They’re doing facilities and maintenance. And we have Tony Lewis, star of the Washington Post and lots of other media. He is a Job Development Specialist here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov. On the front page of our website we have radio shows, televisions shows, trying to entice employers into a discussion called crowd sourcing in the social media world, to try to gain some sense of perspective as to what it takes for us to employ or to prompt the employment of people under our supervision. On any given day we have 14,000 people under our supervision, any given year, 23,000, but half are unemployed. Tony Lewis, your job is a Job Development Specialist for CSOSA, welcome.

Tony Lewis: Welcome. I mean, thank you for having me Mr. Sipes.

Len Sipes: I really appreciate all of you guys being here to have this discussion, extraordinary important discussion. Tell me how easy is it to convince employers to hire people under our supervision.

Tony Lewis: It’s not that easy. It’s pretty difficult actually. You know, the analogy that I always use is it’s like as if I have a store, right, and all the merchandise in my store is perceived to be broken and I’m trying to convince the customer to buy it because I have faith in it, I know that it works, but to them they feel like it’s broken. So typically that’s what I do every day all day is trying to convince people that something they perceive to be broken is not necessarily broke and it actually can get the job done. And I think we have a lot of talent in terms of our client base. We have a lot of motivated people, talented people that are ready to go into the workforce.

Len Sipes: Now, I have been doing this, doing radio and television about the criminal justice system for about 20 years. I have spoken to hundreds of people under supervision, who used to be under supervision who are currently employed and their lives are going along just peachy.

Tony Lewis: Sure.

Len Sipes: We know that the research indicates that when they’re employed, the better they do under supervision, the less they recidivate, the less they come back into the criminal justice system. It’s a win-win situation for everybody. You and I have both talked to hundreds and hundreds of people who have successfully made that transformation from the prison system to being good citizens through employment. So what’s wrong with our message? What are we not doing that we should be doing to prompt the people, employers, to hire people under our supervision?

Tony Lewis: To me I think we are taking all the proper steps. I think what happens is that there’s a stigma associated with people that have been incarcerated, previously incarcerated. And so when one person or two people, you know, so to speak, that happens to get an opportunity and blow their opportunity or reoffend, I think it can never—it has a much more significant impact than a hundred people that do it the right people. And I think that’s the issue more so than us not taking the proper—cause we’re preparing our offenders that we supervise, we’re taking them through steps for them to prove their commitment, we’re presenting talented and people with the proper skill sets to do the job and I think hiring policies across the board is probably the biggest barrier. Because hiring policies take like such a broad stroke in terms of have you ever been convicted of a felony or, you know, it’s no case-by-case basis. People are not looked at as individuals. They’re grouped into these pools and they’re put into groups where these stereotypes are really prompted by one or two individuals that made bad decisions. And so I think we’ve got to chip away at the hiring policies and maybe look to redefine those.

Len Sipes: Www.csosa.gov is the website. On the website you’re going to find radio and television shows, again, designed to prompt that conversation with the employment community. We’re inviting people to come and talk to us and give us information in terms of what it is that we can do in terms of making it easier for people to hire people under our supervision. I want to go to our two gentlemen who are currently under supervision. And we have Kenyan Blakely as I said and Kenneth Trice. Gentleman, either one of you can go and run with this question. So, everybody, not everybody, there’s a lot of people out there who have the stereotype that people who are caught up in the criminal justice system, I’m just not going to deal with them. I’m not going to hire them. I don’t care about them. I’m not going to support programs for them. It’s a little harder when you’re sitting here face-to-face as I’ve talked to literally thousands of people who are doing well, who were once caught up in the criminal justice system, but now they’re doing well. People use the word criminal, well that applies to both of you. They say I’m not going to hire criminals. So I’m going to start off with Kenneth. Are you a criminal, is that how you see yourself?

Kenneth Trice: No Leonard, I’m not a criminal.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Kenneth Trice: I just made bad judgments.

Len Sipes: Right.

Kenneth Trice: And now I’m okay.

Len Sipes: And you’re okay because of why, because of how, what happened? I mean, you’re with one of the greatest faith institutions in Washington, DC, the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. I mean, it’s known, not just throughout the District of Columbia, it’s known throughout the country. Is that how you were able to cross that bridge, by working with them?

Kenneth Trice: No. It came from my CSO.

Len Sipes: Your Community Supervision Officer?

Kenneth Trice: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Otherwise known as Parole and Probation Agents for everybody listening throughout—beyond DC.

Kenneth Trice: Yes. It started with him. He put me on GPS leg, angel bracelet.

Len Sipes: Right, Global Positioning System monitoring.

Kenneth Trice: And then he referred me to the VOTE Unit and from there I went into Project Empowerment and from there I got placed at Greater Mount Calvary. From there I was just in the program and then once my time was up they picked me up, I started as a part-time worker. That phase lasted for maybe four or five months and then they hired me full-time, benefits and everything and now I’m just focused. It’s all about determination and perseverance. You’ve just got to be—you’ve got to know what you want, bottom line. If you feel that you—you’re going to do wrong regardless, its just nature, but you have to I guess overlook it, I guess.

Len Sipes: What did the job mean to you in terms of crossing that bridge?

Kenneth Trice: Well, it means a lot. I’m no longer, I mean, I’m still looked at as maybe an offender. I don’t want to call myself a criminal. I’m looked at as an offender but now that I have gainful employment I feel that another employer will hire me. They may overlook my background being as though I’ve been working now.

Len Sipes: But you believe that you’ve proved yourself, that you have crossed that bridge, you are now a taxpayer, you’re not a tax burden, you are what everybody in society wants you to be.

Kenneth Trice: Yes sir.

Len Sipes: Okay, and how does that feel?

Kenneth Trice: It feels wonderful.

Len Sipes: And what message would you give to other people who have the opportunity to employ somebody like you?

Kenneth Trice: Please employ them.

Len Sipes: And they would do that because of why? They would employ somebody caught up in the criminal justice system for what reason?

Kenneth Trice: To give them a chance to prove themselves.

Len Sipes: All right. And Kenyan, Kenyan Blakely, again, working for the Department of Human Resources for DC Government, a Support Services Assistant, the same questions are going to go to you, I mean, these are tough questions. I use the term criminal advisedly. I have heard from employers in the past I’m not going to hire ex-cons, I’m not going to hire criminals and it is like they—what they are meaning is is that everybody falls into one category. They have a mental image of exactly who they are. They have a mental image of the fact that they’re going to create problems for me, thereby; I’m not going to hire them. But then again I sit down with the two of you and I don’t see fangs, I don’t see blood dripping from your teeth, I see just two regular guys who are now doing well partially because of employment, correct or incorrect?

Kenyan Blakely: Correct.

Kenneth Trice: Correct.

Len Sipes: All right, well tell me that. Get closer to the microphone.

Kenyan Blakely: I’ve always—I’ve had jobs, you know, I’ve been on—probably since prior to being on CSOSA and I went on a bunch of job interviews, went on job interviews this go round and I’ve had people pull me to the side and say your resume is excellent, your work ethic, everything, but it’s just, you know, it’s just that background. You can’t pass that background check or it’s not in my hands, it’s in someone else’s hands and they want to go with—but they took a chance on hiring them. Why you can’t take a chance on hiring me? You have people who have committed no crime ever in life, but their work ethic sucks. So you have to take a chance on someone, why not take a chance with someone who has a lot to loose, but a lot go gain too also. So, you know, it’s give and take with it. Like I’ve had people straight up tell me to my face outside of the office, I want you, I want you for this position, but I can’t bring you in. And they would just tell me, you know, don’t stop looking, and I’ve never stopped looking. I’ve always had two jobs. I’ve always had a part-time job on the weekend and now I have full-time employment. Like I said, I’ve started in the program with Tony a whole, almost a year in the program and I got a phone call and it’s like come upstairs you’re going on an interview. I’m like interview for what? They were like people watch you.

Len Sipes: That’s great. What does the job mean to you in terms of your ability or inability to return to crime?

Kenyan Blakely: It was never really—it was choices that we made. Those choices were wrong. I admit those. I’m the first to admit anything that I’ve every done wrong, but now, you know, as a father, I’m a father of two, you know, you just want to be able to not leave them anymore. Not to lose everything that you’ve gained, lose it over and over and over, come home to have nothing, now I’m building to have everything that I lost to have back. You know, I have a daughter that’s six, I have a son that’s 12. I never want to leave them again. I never want them to look up and be like where’s my dad. I can’t talk to him when I want to. I can’t see him. So those are the things that linger in the back of your head at all times. So when I come to work on them days I don’t feel like getting up, those are my get up, let’s go and it’s no holding back, no, oh, it’s cold outside, I don’t feel like getting, no, I’m in there every day.

Len Sipes: Tony Lewis, we have credits, tax credits—

Tony Lewis: Yes.

Len Sipes: For people who do hire people under supervision, we do have a bonding program, there’s a Federal bonding program that mitigates the amount of risk that they have. All of this is available on our website, www.csosa.gov. All right, so from a societal point of view it is extraordinarily important that people who we supervise find work.

Tony Lewis: Absolutely. It increases public safety for one. Like you spoke about people working are less prone or less likely to break the law and these two gentlemen can attest to that. They’re a representation of many people—the ones that we are able to get employed. And the program that they spoke about is the Transitional Employment Program that we have here at CSOSA. That’s in partnership with the DC Department of Employment Services. Where we basically place individuals in jobs where we pay they salary. It’s a stipend, a subsidized wage, but it gives them an opportunity to audition and so you can see these people for themselves and not just a person on paper that broke the law in the past. And that may be ten years ago, it may be two years ago, it may be 20 years ago, it gives an opportunity for that person to highlight their skillset, learn new skills and it’s for people to see them as human beings and not just a quote, unquote, criminal. And so the beauty of that program is that that’s what it affords to no cost to the employer. Now I know that’s not something that exists all across the country, but when people have an opportunity to see these guys every day and to gauge their work ethic and see their personalities and to know that they’re fathers and things like that, it really helps the employer to see them in a different light.

Len Sipes: But that’s the thing that always killed me gentleman, and anybody can come into this conversation, is that you can have the image; you can watch the 6:00 news and hear the news about somebody doing something terrible to another human being. You can watch the 6:00 news, the 11:00 news, pick up the newspaper, read the same sort of stuff, there’s a certain point you say to yourself, man, the people involved in this stuff, I’m not going to have anything to do with. I’m going to move as far away as I possibly can from them and I’m just not going to have anything to do with them. But then, again, you sit and talk eyeball-to-eyeball as we’re doing now and you’re just regular guys. You’re not the stereotype that you think of at the 6:00 news. You’re just regular guys.

Kenneth Trice: Exactly.

Len Sipes: You’re not the stereotype that you think of at the 6:00 news, you’re just regular guys. How can we transmit that, hey, I’m a regular guy, I just need a chance. I understand I screwed up. I understand I made mistakes, but please do not hold that against me for the rest of my life. How do you transmit that information to people who hire?

Kenneth Trice: I think a lot of companies need to change their hiring process. Not just to—you’ve got two strikes against you, you have one, either your credit is bad or you’re a criminal. Why should those two things stop you from gaining employment? Like you need employment. If you don’t have employment for people they’ll turn to do other things to a life of crime.

Len Sipes: They’re going to say, but I’ve got plenty of people who don’t have those backgrounds. I’ve got plenty of people with good credit without a criminal background, why am I going to hire the dude—

Kenyan Blakely: I got a point for you.

Len Sipes: Go please.

Kenyan Blakely: If you have all those people that you work for, do a background check after the fact, a lot of them won’t tell you that they have a criminal past after they’ve been hired. So you will never know if you don’t go back and do a background check every year or so often on an employer. You have employees who’ve been at companies prior to them getting in trouble but the company will never know, but they’ll be like, oh, we don’t—once you have the job it’s okay. What you do before that—

Len Sipes: Because they get to know you.

Kenyan Blakely: Exactly.

Len Sipes: They get to see you as a worker so the criminal background disappears because all they see is a good worker. How do we get people to that point? But hold that thought cause I want to reintroduce everybody. Ladies and gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. We’re talking about employing ex-offenders. We’ve got Tony Lewis, Job Development Specialist with my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, www.csosa.gov. We have Kenyan Blakely, he is with the Department of Human Resources for the District of Columbia, Support Services Assistant and we have Kenneth Trice, he is with the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. He is with Facilities & Maintenance. How we convince, again, you know, get beyond the stereotype, get you in there, sit down, talk to you because all three of us, four of us in the room know that after six months that criminal history disappears. All we have to do is get beyond that point of hiring and that point of success. How do we get to that point?

Kenyan Blakely: Give people a chance.

Len Sipes: Okay, but there again, they’re going to say, once again, I’ve got some people here without a criminal history and I’ve got some people here with a great credit background. If I’ve got to give somebody a chance, I’m going to go with a guy without a criminal history and without a bad credit history. I’m going to increase the odds of a successful employment in their minds by employing the person without the background.

Kenneth Trice: I think what happens, Mr. Sipes, is that when you find, from a business standpoint, it’s about the bottom line, right.

Len Sipes: Right.

Kenneth Trice: So for me as a job developer, my thing is to say I’m not asking for a hand out, I’m here to help you by being able to connect with talent, right, something that’s going to increase your bottom line, going to increase your productivity. And the other part of that is that it’s no way, you know, when you hire whomever, no matter what their background is, you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting. So businesses have to, I think, take a standpoint to say if this person’s crime does not have a rational relationship, so let’s be very clear, we’re not saying if you robbed a bank, you should be able to work at Wells Fargo, right.

Len Sipes: Or if you’re a sex offender you should be doing daycare, nobody’s saying that.

Kenneth Trice: Absolutely, no, nobody’s saying that, but if I committed a crime five years ago that has no relationship to the job, why can’t I work there?

Len Sipes: We have, the bottom line I want to make is that we have good people right now under our supervision; we have 14,000 human beings under our supervision right now, 23,000 human beings under our supervision in any given year. We’ve got people right now ready to go who are not a risk to public safety, who have real skills, who don’t have drug positives, they’re ready to go right now. We can give them tax credits to get them involved in the bonding program, plus they have their Community Supervision Officer, known elsewhere as a Parole and Probation Agent, who can help the employer deal with problems if they come up.

Kenneth Trice: And a Vocational Development Specialist.

Len Sipes: And a Vocational Development Specialist and in many cases training that we and the District of Columbia and other cities throughout the country get involved in and plus we have GED programs, we have educational programs, we have job readiness programs. Why would you not come to us if we can deliver a talented person ready to work.

Kenneth Trice: Sure. And sometimes people that you’re hiring, even if the person’s out of college, sometimes people out of college haven’t necessarily even, in my mind, had the training. I mean, I think about the training that we provide here at CSOSA and I think about, wow, if I had that going into the job market, like if I learned things, I mean, just whether it’s interviewing, whether it’s, you know, just gaining a concept of workplace expectations. I learned that on the fly. We’re preparing people to enter the workforce and stay there through our programming. I mean, you know, and even we’re taking steps to even interface with people pre-release, myself and Mr. Blakely, our first communication started when he was in River’s Correctional Institution via teleconference. And then he met with Whittington and she did what she does and then he got referred from her to the program. Kenny Trice met with Dr. Sutton and she did what she does in terms of prepping him and gauging his readiness and gauging his commitment. Then he got referred to the program. So there’s rigger in terms of what we do because when we present people to the workforce, we’re trying to present someone that we’re going to be confident in, somebody’s that already proven to us that they’re legit and that they’re ready. So it’s not just like, hey, somebody gets off a bus from prison and we’re sending them to you as the employer and saying, hey, you should give them a job. No, we’re taking the proper steps to ensure that whoever we refer to you is somebody that’s going to come in and increase your productivity.

Len Sipes: Okay, and so, and anybody can jump in on this conversation, don’t hold back. Okay, so, generally speaking, within the District of Columbia, generally speaking, within major cities throughout the country, you have unemployment somewhere around six to eight percent. We have unemployment at 50%.

Kenneth Trice: Sure.

Len Sipes: Okay, so all the wonderful things that we’ve just said, bonding programs, tax credits, training, GED, workforce development, you’ve got all that going for us, you’ve got a Job Developer whose going to work with you, you’ve got a Community Supervision Officer, ala, Parole and Probation Agent, but yet you can not escape the numbers, six to eight percent versus 50%. Why is that?

Kenyan Blakely: I think a lot of people just need to wake up from what they’re doing and really understand that you need gainful employment, like you can’t play with it, I don’t care what it is that you do, but, bottom line, you don’t want to be too old and not be able to get a job. Like me, I just want them to know that I have skills; every day that I go to work I’m showing you my skills.

Len Sipes: But, bottom line, how many people are there like you?

Kenyan Blakely: There are a lot. There are a lot.

Len Sipes: So tell me, how many?

Kenyan Blakely: I think there are over 20,000 in this city that want to work.

Len Sipes: All right. So we’ve got thousands of people right now—I can’t speak for everybody in the District, I’m talking about people under our supervision here at CSOSA. We all know the folks. We interact with them every single day.

Kenyan Blakely: Sure.

Len Sipes: And we know that some aren’t ready, we know that some are still struggling, we know that some are pulling drug positives, we know that some are hanging out on the corner causing problems.

Kenneth Trice: Right, but we’re not talking about them.

Len Sipes: We know that, but we’re not talking about them.

Kenneth Trice: Yep.

Len Sipes: We’re not asking for charity.

Kenyan Blakely: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Okay, so if we’re tossing them off to the side and we’re talking about people, real grown-ups who are ready to work and who are going to do a good job for you, how many are we talking about?

Tony Lewis: I think we, in the City, I mean, under supervision I think probably out of your 14,000, I think you probably, strongly, probably half. I’m going to give you 7,000.

Len Sipes: Seven thousand human beings that aren’t employed that are ready to go. They’re not employed for what reason?

Tony Lewis: Some people I think they just need a chance or just some people they have to show that they want to work, like the work ethic. Like everybody that comes through the program isn’t going to make it, everybody that comes through CSOSA, we already know isn’t going to make it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tony Lewis: You know, you have those who like, when they come through the door, hey, I’m going to do what I want to do when I want to do it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tony Lewis: Life doesn’t work that way. Until you get that in your head that you’ve got to follow these rules, cause most people, we don’t want to get up and go to work, we want to sit home, you know, you have to work, that’s just it. I have never been the type person that didn’t want to work.

Len Sipes: Yeah, I’ve never been able to figure out how to get around not working. I’ve been looking for that my entire life and I haven’t found it yet. But, you know, Kenyan, I talked to you, you’re interviewing perfectly, you have bright eye, you know, eye contact, delivering everything perfect, I would hire you in a second.

Kenyan Blakely: Appreciate that.

Len Sipes: I would hire you in a second. You know, Kenneth, same way with you. You’re looking at me direct, you’re interviewing well, I would hire you in a second. What is it that I am getting that everybody else is not getting? Everybody else is sitting out there and saying, okay, dude, look they’re caught in the criminal justice system. I already told you I’m not going to hire somebody caught up in the criminal justice system.

Tony Lewis: Most companies just can’t get past that.

Kenyan Blakely: It’s that, it’s background.

Kenneth Trice: The hiring policies, and especially Len, when we’re talking about today’s world, talking about 90% of job searches done via the internet and you have, you know, questions, have you ever been convicted of a felony. And a lot of times you check yes, that’s it for you, that’s an eliminator. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, it doesn’t matter what you did, it’s like no. And especially, we’re talking about here in the District of Columbia where you have probably the most bustling job market in the country, right, where you’ve got the most moved to place America. People are coming here solely because of the strength of the job market but we have native Washingtonians, we have people under supervision who can’t get a job at all. You know what I mean? It shouldn’t even be an issue but at the end of the day people aren’t being judged on their skillset, they’re being judged just solely based on crime.

Len Sipes: All right. And there’s a certain point—what we’re saying is is that fundamentally, morally, ethically, that could be wrong, is wrong, but more importantly, we’re saying to a business person, because business hires, does 80% of the hiring, you’re not protecting your bottom line because there are good people that you could be hiring.

Kenneth Trice: Precisely.

Len Sipes: You’re not making the money you could be making, you’re not doing as well as you could be doing because we’ve got 7,000 people ready to rock and roll right now.

Kenneth Trice: So, and 7,000 people, something that Kenyan brought up, that may possibly work harder than your just normal Joe Blow, because they have everything to lose. They’re going to value their job because they know they just can’t go anywhere and get a job.

Len Sipes: You know, in the 20 years of interviewing people that’s one of the most powerful points is that I’ve got so much to lose I am not going to screw this up.

Kenneth Trice: Yes.

Len Sipes: And that’s a powerful incentive, I mean, look, I mean, Kenyan just basically said, I’m not going to leave my kids again.

Kenneth Trice: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And we’re not talking about just people under supervision, we’re talking about the fact that most people under supervision got kids.

Kenneth Trice: That’s right. Exactly.

Len Sipes: So we’re not just talking about them, we’re talking about kids. So now instead of the 7,000, let’s times it by two just to be on the average, so now we’re talking about 14,000 human beings.

Kenneth Trice: Yep.

Len Sipes: Let alone spouses, you know—

Kenneth Trice: Sure. Sure.

Len Sipes: And another 7,000, we’re up to 20,000 people. We’re up to 20,000 people affected and their lives are coming to a halt because you’re saying to yourself, Mr. Employer, this guy ten years ago committed a burglary, I’m not touching him.

Kenneth Trice: Sure.

Len Sipes: Is that it? Is it that stark? Is it that real?

Kenyan Blakely: It’s that real.

Len Sipes: And what we’ve got to do to get beyond that reality is what gentlemen? How do we convince them?

Kenyan Blakely: Give them a chance.

Len Sipes: Give them a chance.

Kenyan Blakely: Just give them a chance. But like me, for instance, my last interview that I went on, they looked at everything, they asked me questions about it, they went straight to it and I told them if you give me a chance I won’t let you down. Everybody that sat in front of me—there was four people on the panel. I left out, an hour later I got an e-mail, offer letter and everything, you know, just like we’re going to give you a shot. It was two other people and they gave me the shot and I was happy. And to this day they’re still looking at me like, Kenyan, you’re in here. I’m trying, like I don’t want to—like I’ve been at my job almost a year. I come from—my first agency was, as a matter of fact, what was that—the Agency for Public Affairs, and I was under the Mayor’s Office, I worked for Officer of Partnerships and Grant Services and now I work for DC Department of Human Resources. And like I met so many people through the agencies, through District Government and, you know, they don’t know your story until you talk to them and then when you give them some insight they’re like wow, like you came from that to this. Yes, I did. Like a lot of people can’t walk in those shoes.

Len Sipes: Tony, you’ve got 30 seconds before we have to wrap up. I’m going to give you a chance to close. What do we say to people, what do we say to employers, what do we say to their husbands and wives, what do we say to get them to give people like Kenyan, like Kenneth, a chance.

Tony Lewis: Bottom line is that we have talented, motivated people that can potentially bring new ideas, can increase your productivity and an overall sense, I think it’s just better for society and our community when we have people gainfully employed. It leads to a safer environment, it leads to a more productive environment and, you know, we need everybody who can help should and I think we’re moving in the right direction and at the same time the people that we supervise also have to be accountable to continue to do the right thing and not reoffend.
Len Sipes: Everybody’s got to pull together.

Tony Lewis: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Everybody’s got to row the same boat in the same direction.

Tony Lewis: Yes sir.

Len Sipes: All right. Gentleman, I really want to thank you very much for being with us today. It was an extraordinarily important topic. I do want to remind all of our listeners, again, at our website, www.csosa.gov. We have a series of radio and television shows where we talk about this issue of hiring people under supervision. We really do want people to call us, contact us, let us know how we can do a better job of preparing people to be employed with their company. You can always give me a call, 202-220-5616, 202-220-5616. Ladies and gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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