Transforming Offender Employment-National Institute of Corrections-DC Public Safety

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2013/07/transforming-offender-employment-national-institute-of-corrections-dc-public-safety/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re going to be talking about Transforming Offender Employment – what’s new, what’s interesting in terms of finding individuals under community supervision jobs, what correctional systems throughout the country are doing to prepare individuals from coming out of the prison system into the community and lowering the recidivism rate.  Back at our microphones today is P. Elizabeth Taylor, Pat is a Correctional Program Specialist, Community Services Division, National Institute of Corrections – www.nicic.gov. www.nicic.gov. Pat, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Thank you, Len. Good to be back.

Len Sipes: We’ve done a television show on this, and it’s very popular. We’ve had lots of different states who are using the television show. It’s a really big topic, making sure that individuals in the prison system, that prison inmates are trained occupationally before they come out of the prison system, and that we’re doing the right things when we get them on community supervision. That’s the heart and soul of this topic, correct?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, doing the right things for the right reasons.

Len Sipes: Okay. We know that this is a problem, a big problem in terms of recidivism. We know that generally speaking from national data – which is getting old now, and the Department of Justice is saying that they’re going to be updating it fairly soon – but we’re talking about two-thirds re-arrested, and we’re talking about 50% going back to prison. Those are the current national statistics, and I find looking at state statistics that it’s not all that unusual.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: A lot of the people that I talk to tell me that unemployment is a principle driver of people going back to the prison system. Is that true?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: It’s unemployment and underemployment, and I’m going to say it’s not just the process of being unemployed or underemployed but it’s the inability of the population, the justice-involved adult, to address those issues that resulted in them being attached to the criminal justice system in the first place.

Len Sipes: Now the National Institute of Corrections has a large program on DVDs, a large program that is accessible, available to people, and training which is available to people all throughout the country on this topic.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, and what I like to let people know, you know, the misnomer is that the training is for free. No. Your tax dollars have already paid for the training so it’s to your advantage to take advantage of it, and our call is specific to workforce development, offender workforce development, the employment series. – And when you think about it, it’s a university model, so what does that mean? Well, it means that we start pretty much at the beginning. What are some of the best practices associated that we know works well in working with the unemployed or underemployed offender or justice involved individual getting attached to the workforce?  And if can just say right here, in terms of employment or workforce development, we’ve changed, we’ve broadened the definition, if you will. Traditionally, employment is – okay, I’m paid; I’m receiving a paid salary. If you redefine it in that whole transformational process, we’re talking about gainful attachment to the workforce, which can be via paid employment, of course. It could be a structured training program. It could be an academic pursuit. It could be by way of volunteerism. So we’re focusing on helping this population have some type of attachment to the workforce.

Len Sipes: Well, we had a program a couple of days ago here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency where we invited unions in, and the gentleman told a very passionate story about how he was caught up in the criminal justice system years ago, and I think he said he spent the majority of his teenage days incarcerated. He went to a presentation, the same presentation, a similar presentation that he gave yesterday, that how he became a cement-layer, and how that started him off on a career – good pay, good fringe benefits, and how he rose in the ranks of the union and union politics, and how he has developed into a union official today, but he started off as a former offender.   Somebody gave him an offer that he felt that he could not refuse. It was dirty, long, hot work, but the unions, the various unions basically said to the individuals at the seminar, “We don’t care what your criminal background is. We don’t care.” That’s one of the very few professions I’m aware of where they say that “we don’t care.” If you are willing to come in and work hard, you can rise up through the ranks and become a skilled carpenter, a cement layer, a steel worker all the different – I mean, so that’s still possible today.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: It is, and there’s this process of business necessity, and so if there is a close connection between an individual’s conviction and the known duties and responsibilities of the said position they’re applying for, they may not qualify for it. But aside from that, it is a red carpet, if you will, for possibilities, but to get to that possibility, you have to be evaluated and/or assessed because you just don’t want to go for a position because you know it’s available. Are you suited for it? Are the duties and responsibilities something that you can life with? And do you have enough information about the process that you’re willing to take it step-by-step because what you mentioned in your story is that this individual started at the beginning.

Len Sipes: Right.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Now quite frankly, most people, they want to start at the top. They are that impulsive, “I want it yesterday” type of person, and so they have to learn the benefit of taking it, you know, we say one day at a time but taking it one step at a time.

Len Sipes: Sure. Well, the prison systems throughout the country, are they doing a better job of preparing individuals to go out and find work? – Because that has been a big problem in this country. You know years ago, I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety so there were three correctional systems, and one of the things that when re-entry finally came into vogue, and re-entry was part of the issue that was put on the table, and reduction of recidivism, our folks basically said, “Look, we’re funded to run constitutional institutions, and yes, we do have some vocational training, we do have educational training, we do have this, we do have that, but we don’t have very much of it, and it certainly doesn’t touch all the individuals caught up in the prison system.”  And yet suddenly, prison systems were now given the responsibility of training people and lowering the rate of recidivism. I still get the sense that states throughout the country are struggling with that capacity issue.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: It is improving. I will admit that if you look at the history of offender workforce development specific to corrections, that you had people working in rock quarries breaking bricks, you had them in sewing houses, you had them doing menial-type work where there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for advancement. Well, we have this organization, this process connected to correctional industries, and it provides the real-life work experience for people that are incarcerated. So depending upon where the state is, you have various types of career options, training options, again, the ability to learn that position from the ground-up, and quite frankly as the nation is moving forward, there are a lot of correctional industries that are in alignment with some of the trades’ industry programs.

Len Sipes: Well in Maryland, I was amazed because we had a printing press operation, which was huge. It did all the printing for the state of Maryland, and it was a female-owned company who hired every person who got out of prison because her equipment was exactly our equipment. She didn’t have to do any training at all. These were individuals who had been using this equipment, cleaning the equipment, repairing the equipment, maintaining the equipment for ten years, so they’re in a perfect position to seamlessly move over and work for this individual.  Now it’s funny because she would tell me stories as if the people who were there, they were wonderful workers, but they were saying, “Ma’am, can I go to the bathroom,” and she would say, “Sam, you can go to the bathroom any time you want. You don’t have to ask my permission.” Part of the institutionalization process carries over into the work process. So there are many great opportunities within the prison system. I just don’t get the sense – and other people have said this, not just me – but there’s just not enough of them.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: We’re sometimes the best-kept secret, and I think that there are organizations – you have the National Correctional Industries Organization, they are industry programming in each of the 50 states, so I would encourage people to Google NCIA and find out what’s going on in their state. Now, I’m not suggesting that it’s a perfect process. It is not. We are still, as an industry program, we’re still on our learning curve, but it’s much better than it was, and you have the situation where an individual can say, “You know, I have skills and abilities now, and professional expertise,” and like you say, that conviction no longer becomes a big – it’s no longer an issue. That employer sees what the employee can do, not what they did.

Len Sipes: True, but states are beginning to recognize their role in lowering recidivism.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: States are beginning to recognize that it’s an economic issue, it is a taxpayer issue, it’s a matter of lessening the burden on taxpayers to provide individuals caught up in the criminal justice system, incarcerated, in prisons – it’s in everybody’s best interest to provide them with vocational training.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And state to state, they need to determine how they define recidivism. Once they come up with that definition, then the goal is to support that person’s self-sufficiency. Now I will say that a job or a connection to the workforce will not necessarily keep you out of the system, but when done correctly, these job training programs, these industry programs identify those issues. – And, you know, the bigger word is the criminogenic risk. Well, it’s a lot to say, well, what does that really mean? Well, it means that those thought processes, those —

Len Sipes: Well, the bottom line behind what NIC is trying to do is to do it right.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: That’s the thing that I get from all of your materials and from doing the television show with you. You’re talking about assessing the individual, using research, using data, being sure that the best person is put in the best possible job, so it’s a matter of training those people. When we talk about training in this case, we’re not talking about necessarily training inmates in prison. We’re talking about training staff to assess that individual, to find out who’s the best fit for the best job, and to use cognitive skill behavioral training, which is basically teaching them fundamental issues of right and wrong, how to respond on the job, how to act on the job, what’s expected from you on the job – that all of this needs to be systematic. It needs to be scientific. It needs to be evidence-based.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Right, right, and when you look at it, and that’s the transformational piece. So with the transformative workforce development system, you’re looking at the relationship between that practitioner and the offender, or the court or justice-involved individual. So on the practitioner’s side, what type of communication skills, how am I relating to this individual? Do I see the possibility that they can change?  Will I willingly develop a relationship with them, and then guide them through a process where they can let’s say challenge – not attack – but challenge their core belief, because the reality is if you are incarcerated and you are unemployed, and you say, “You know, I don’t like this,” but you say, “but you know, it’s all right for me to be in jail,” well, there is some type of dissonance right there, and so with proper training as a practitioner, you get the skills to be able to guide that person through to address those issues, those self-perceptions, the impulsivity, the inability to respond to a work-with-authority figures. You address the issues of, you know, “My friends aren’t working but that’s all right for me. I’ll hang out with them.”  So if you can challenge and work with that person, then they can go from a point of unemployed – and I keep saying underemployment – to a point of self-sufficiency.

Len Sipes: Because it strikes me that you can train a person to be a carpenter, you can train them to be a plumber, you can train them to be a bricklayer, you can train them to be a printer, but that doesn’t necessarily deal with the issue of an unreasonable boss saying unreasonable things, making possibly unreasonable expectations. All of us go through that. Everybody listening to this program, we all go through all of that sort of stuff but we don’t blow up.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly. Exactly.

Len Sipes: And we don’t strike back verbally, and we don’t stomp off the job. – And so many of our individuals caught up in the criminal system, they need to be taught that, and so that’s what you’re talking about, right?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: We’re talking about problem-solving skills. We’re talking about decision-making skills. So like you say, the reality is, as an employee, I will have someone that will tell me, “You need to do A and B,” okay? Well, let’s just say that my work ethic or lack thereof tells me, “I get to do what I want to do.” That type of thinking helps me become unemployed. It supports my detachment from the workforce. So if you can work with me as the practitioner to help me understand the relationship between my values, my beliefs, and how they relate to my behavior.

Len Sipes: And that all part of this larger from the National Institute of Corrections of training staff to work with the offenders in terms of their cognitive development. It’s just not a matter of teaching bricklaying. It is a matter of helping that person cope with the realities of the day-to-day work world.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Touching that emotional IQ.

Len Sipes: And that is just as important as giving them hard skills and give them training.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: You know, I’ll tell you that it’s more important. I mean, we can find, the employer, he can find people that can do the job, okay, but do they have the type of attitude, temperament that will help them stay connected.

Len Sipes: I’m sorry, we’re more than halfway through the program. P. Elizabeth Taylor is our guest today, Correctional Program Specialist, Community Services Division, with the National Institute of Corrections – www.nicic.gov. I can’t do that without screwing that up. www.nicic.gov – part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Department of Justice.  Pat, so the bottom line in all of this is that we, you know, we keep thinking about that the focus is on the individual caught up in the criminal justice system, the offender. That’s where all the focus is. The focus needs to be on us as criminal justice practitioners to properly asses that person, get that person into the right job, something he or she is going to stock with throughout the years, and give him or her the skills to survive on that job and thrive on that job. That’s the package that you’re talking about.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: That’s the package, and the other part of it is that we need to, when you think about our current situation in these United States – cut-backs, programs are just being abolished, we have less funds now – so how can we do more with less?

Len Sipes: The best possible job with the resources that we have.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, and so with that understanding, we have the training that we provide, and part of the training is to help the practitioner to know, to get the best out of your current resources, identify those people that are highest at risk, however do you define recidivism, to recidivate. Now once you have that determination, well then let’s go ahead and do a reassessment and re-evaluation, and that’s what our training provides.  So we’ve gone from best and promising practices, at the next level we have theory-based career-assistance. So how do you help that individual, now that I’ve identified that they’re at risk for recidivism, and I’ve identified their needs and their barriers, so how can I assist them in that process for their attachment to the workforce? Well, it’s not just about placing them, though, and so with the transformational workforce development, we know that the focus is not on the face-em-and-place-em, it’s on the retention. – And so combining that hand-in-glove, motivational interviewing techniques with cognitive behavioral principles supports long-term attachment to the workforce, and if it’s not the job per se that keeps a person out of the criminal justice system, it’s the process of getting that job, because in that process you’re addressing those barriers and those issues, those isms if you will, that make it easy for the offender to be caught up into the system.

Len Sipes: Motivational technique, I mean, there we’re talking about making sure that the person is finding out what it is that makes that person tick, and motivating that person to stick with it, to stay the course, finding out as much as you can about that individual and using motivational tools to keep that person engaged and keep that person enthused with the cognitive behavioral therapy skills, which is basically what is an appropriate response, how do you handle stress. So it’s a combination of all of those skills.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, it’s hand-in-glove, yes.

Len Sipes: So it starts in the prison system and it’s handed off to parole and probation agents, what we call community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia. They have to have those skills to move that person from prison to community supervision to a job, and to do it successfully.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: So what you’re saying is that you need that collaboration, and what we’re referring to now is that continuum of care. So from the prison system or jail system to the community, everyone that would touch the life of that offender or justice-involved individual needs to be aware of what works. Based on research, we know that motivational interviewing techniques, where you’re developing a positive relationship of guidance, supports the offender. We know by the research that any cognitive-based programming, where you’re able to help the offender make that connection between their values and beliefs and their behaviors, actions or reactions, is proven effective. We need to make sure, though, that everyone, all of our stakeholders within that continuum of care, have similar training to support case management and that case planning.

Len Sipes: And that’s what the National Institute of Corrections is trying to do.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Now take this training today, because I saw – and I spent a lot of time when we did the television show, looking for video footage that best illustrates what it is that you do there at NIC – is this a course where they go on campus and take the course, or is this a course where they can view the video tapes separately?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Well at the first level, the offender employment specialist training – or building bridges – that is a multi-disk set where you can self-train, if you will. I encourage people, though, to make sure that they identify good partners to bring to the table to walk through that process.  Now the next level is the offender workforce development specialist training, which is about 180 hours. It is a train-through-partnership, so once an application is made for the training, then we will go to your jurisdiction and we will facilitate the training there, whatever state or situation where it’s located.  Now at the next level, the offender employment retention specialist training, that’s facilitated or people are trained at our training academy in Aurora, Colorado. So that’s a 40-hour blended training. You come to our site. There is pre-training work. There is training definitely while we’re there, but then that was not enough because now we’re talking about new skills. We’re developing new skills, new ways of working with people. So once the 40-trianing session, and we go back to our respective states, and we’re all really good about these new tools in our toolbox, through the OWDS training, if I can call it that, we provide coaching. We want our training to be dynamic, and training is the on-going process, and I think when people develop – I’ll mention one, is a skill of reflection. If I’m not really using it, if I’m not giving back what you’re saying and that’s not a regular part of my daily work, I’ll lose the skill.  So we have quarterly coaching sessions that we’re providing, and I think at this point there may be 99 people since the pilot that have completed the offender employment retention specialist training that is sponsored by the National Institute of Corrections.

Len Sipes: Now will these individuals go out and train everybody else in their agency because we have hundreds of people here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, I mean those who are directly supervising people on supervision. They’re not all going to be able to take that level of training.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Right, right, and through the partnership, through the OWDS, it is a train-a-trainer type process, so through the partnership, the expectation is that once that core training group is identified, then they will assume responsibility for training others. I will say with the retention training and as you are kind of alluding to, there are a lot of people out there that may not be part of the OWDS knowledge block process, so what then? Well, we’re developing a standalone with best practices in retention training that a person can access similar to the OES. It’ll be a multi-disk set that you can facilitate at your particular site.  Now NIC, the National Institute of Corrections, will provide a technical support to make sure that the training goes as it should but it’s an ongoing process for us to make sure that we’re meeting the training needs of those individuals that are part of Corrections proper, but then also they’re stakeholders.

Len Sipes: It’s a very comprehensive program.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Yes.

Len Sipes: I mean, what you’re talking about is a very comprehensive program that eventually, where we train trainers, and you also provide support material where they can carry that information back to their own agencies because it strikes me as this, is that if you have an individual parole and probation agent anywhere in the country and he’s trying to get that individual interested in a job, he’s trying to find out who that individual is, what they’re interested in, where they would like to go, what they would like to do, develop motivational interviewing, get that person involved in some sort of job training activity or a job.  I mean, again, these apprenticeship programs through the unions are just extraordinary, especially considering they don’t care about the person’s criminal history. So it’s a wonderful opportunity to do that but you’ve got to do it right to get the right person into the right job if that person’s going to have any chance of holding on to that job any length of time.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And it’s not so much that any employer may not – it’s not that they don’t care about the conviction, they want to be aware of it.

Len Sipes: Oh, of course.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And again, and then business necessity would let you know how much weight that particular conviction carries.

Len Sipes: Right.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Now through the cognitive behavioral process, we can train or teach court and justice-involved individual how to talk about their conviction in such a way where they are assuming ownership for the reality of the conviction but they’re making that segue right to those skills and abilities that make them marketable.

Len Sipes: That’s such a great idea. I mean, of all the fears that individuals have coming out of the prison system, the biggest fear is how to deal with that question. What’s your crime? What’s your time? Where did you do time? Who are you? Are you a menace? Are you going to be a good worker or are you going to cause any problems? I mean, and how to deal with those question, and how to deal with them comfortably and how to deal with them successfully become a key ingredient as to whether or not they’re going to be successful.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Through cognitive behavioral-based programming, the individual is able to understand and acknowledge the fact that the charge represents behavior is what they did, it’s not necessarily who they are, and through that restructuring they’re developing a new sense of who I am. – And part of that who I am is a taxpaying citizen that’s actively involved in my community —

Len Sipes: Takes care of my kids.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: — assumes responsibility, exactly.

Len Sipes: Responsible taxpayer.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, yes.

Len Sipes: And that’s what people want to hear, taxpayer not a tax burden.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: That’s the bottom line, yes. Exactly right.

Len Sipes: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so if we did this, if we had this sort of a program, let’s just say that 50% of offenders caught up in prison systems had some sense of meaningful job development training, cognitive behavioral training if they went through all of this, and if they came out and they were met by parole and probation agents who understood these skills, knew these skills, knew how to apply these skills – would it make a substantial impact? Would there be a substantial impact on recidivism, on future criminal behavior, and consequently would that save taxpayers an awful lot of money?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: That is the argument that we’re making. We’re starting now to do the research. Through the employment retention training, we develop an ERI, and Employment Retention Inventory, and the research that’s going to start next fiscal year is looking at that whole workforce development process. If you provide career assistance, if you provide cognitive behavioral-based programming, what will the impact be?  And so it requires that all of our partners – and our partner is anyone that’s gone through our training, any training provided by the National Institute of Corrections – at that point, that partnership is developed. So we’re looking for our partners to help us capture the data, that let’s just say for instance that if our program that’s being offered is not necessarily hitting all the right buttons, then we can modify that because the goal is really to make that impact.

Len Sipes: But we only have about a minute left. One of the things I did want to point out is the fact that there already is good data, some of the most encouraging data that I’ve seen in terms of offender re-entry of individuals being trained in correctional systems, a multi-state study including the state of Maryland where I was at, and their rate of recidivism was considerably lower than the comparison group. So there I data already out there that says “Job training programs in prison systems do work.”

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Right – when structured properly.

Len Sipes: When structured properly.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Yes.

Len Sipes: And if you have the support system on the outside.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And the collaborative relationships from the – the only way I can say it is from the handcuff key to the door key. We’re looking at those relationships with the stakeholders involved.

Len Sipes: Pat, you’ve got the final word. P. Elizabeth Taylor, Correctional Program Specialist, Community Services Division, National Institute of Corrections. Let me see if I can do this right this time. www.nicic.gov. www.nicic.gov.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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