A national program focused on improving the success of people exiting prison to find and retain employment has the support of the Show Me State.
Missouri became the first state to sign up for Reentry 2030 in April, as it seeks to boost job prospects for the thousands of inmates who were released last year from state prisons. The program’s mission is to make advances in reentry and reintegration efforts on a national level by 2030. Its goals include passing policies that increase access to reentry programs, scaling up access for people with criminal records to supportive services such as stable housing, education and health care, and advancing racial equity.
In recent years, the Missouri Department of Corrections has looked to boost its reentry services to improve outcomes for the 13,000 Missourians released from prison over each of the past two years, in addition to the 53,000 on probation or parole, according to officials. DOC Communications Director Karen Pojmann said the department sees Reentry 2030 as an initiative to expand partnerships on a state and national level.
“We were really eager to do it, and in particular, Anne Precythe, the director of the department, has been an innovator in corrections. She is always willing to try new things to improve the lives of the offenders and staff,” Pojmann said.
The department has its own goals in the program to accomplish by 2030, Pojmann said. It wants to ensure 100% of incarcerated Missourians in need of career services receive them. Additionally, it wants 85% of those formerly in prison to be employed within 30 days of release and 80% of them to maintain employment for at least nine months after exiting prison.
“It’s ambitious, for sure, but it’s doable,” she said.
The DOC has established reentry centers in 11 of its facilities, Pojmann said, adding employment specialists are in place working with incarcerated individuals. That work includes making sure those about to exit prison have all the documentation they need, such as a Social Security card, and have received job training education and employability preparation, including how to conduct a job interview, and fill out a job application and resume.
“We’re increasing the focus of having reentry centers at every facility, including behavioral health treatment, anger management programming and other services they may need,” she said. “One of our goals is to reduce recidivism in the community. One way to do that is when people are released from prison, they have the tools and skills and resources they need to be successful after release.”
The DOC manages 21 correctional centers – 19 for men and two for women, according to its website. Pojmann said around 23,000 people are currently incarcerated in the facilities.
In Missouri, recidivism is measured by criminal acts that result in rearrest, reconviction or return to prison with or without a new sentence during a five-year period following the person’s release, according to the DOC. Department data indicates an improvement in recidivism rates in recent years. Of the 4,015 offenders released in 2021, 5% returned to prison within six months. The total is down from 9.6% of 4,910 offenders reported in 2016.
Much like the DOC, the Missouri Job Center has given greater attention toward individuals in prison preparing to reenter the job market. The city of Springfield received a $3 million grant last summer from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration to expand the Job Center’s About Persons with Past Legal Issues in Employment program, commonly called APPLIE.
Over the three-year grant for APPLIE, which includes training for online job applications, resume development and mock interviews, a goal is to work with 400 participants in the program prior to their release from prison, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. Carmen May, the Job Center’s supervisor of career services, said the program has roughly 250 people enrolled. Of those, 186 have been released from prison and 93 are in the workforce. Their average annual pay is about $34,000.
“With this grant, we have a continual flow of people getting out, so a lot of numbers are in flux,” May said, adding staff check in with participants for a year following their release.
Jennifer Biri, Missouri Job Center business services representative, said there sometimes can be a delay from when a person exits prison and can start a job. Others simply don’t report back to Job Center staff, but very well could have a job, which makes accurate data tricky, May added.
“They could be in recovery. Sometimes those won’t allow for them to work, or they’re in certain recovery programs where they have to receive treatment and can’t work just now,” Biri said.
The APPLIE program is offered in nine state facilities, including Ozark Correctional Center in Fordland.
Participants must be no more than 180 days away from being released from prison and plan to live in the in the Missouri Job Center’s service region, which covers Greene, Christian, Dallas, Polk, Stone, Taney and Webster counties.
Aside from the job skills training in the facilities, job fairs are held where employers come to the prisons to meet with inmates who are nearing release and ready to join the workforce. May said the Job Center works with around 200 businesses in the APPLIE program.
Traci Smith, human resources director at Nixa-based G5 Enterprises Inc., which installs insulation and exterior building products for residential and commercial clients, admitted she was nervous when attending a job fair at OCC last November.
“I had never been involved in something like that,” she said, adding she was invited by the Job Center via email and wanted to explore every option for finding workers.
She said the event was a “very humbling experience.”
“I realized these are just people who have made different mistakes than others in their lives,” she said. “They just really needed somebody to offer them an opportunity.”
Noting APPLIE has proven to be a “new pathway” for the company, Smith said G5 has hired three employees through the program. An additional three are expected to join the staff later this summer.
While the company, which employs 172 among its 13 offices, currently only has six openings, Smith said she’d have no hesitation to add more workers who come through APPLIE.
“It really is an undiscovered gem,” she said, adding she believes the program is being underutilized by employers who may hesitate to hire people with a criminal record.
Reentry 2030 is a partnership between the Correctional Leaders Association, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and JustLeadershipUSA. The initiative is supported by the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice and a pair of philanthropies, Houston, Texas-based Arnold Ventures and Connecticut-based The Tow Foundation.
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