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Editors Notebook: Reentry services a component of workforce development

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Peter Osborne
Editor

My Editor’s Notebook is often the last thing I write for an issue. But this week, it became obvious early on that the topic of workforce development ““ a topic we consider to be one of the pillars of our 2020 coverage ““ was going to show up in multiple places, and there was a story that wasn’t on our run sheet that dovetailed nicely with some of the other stories.

Gov. John Carney joined state leaders at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington on Jan. 13 to address the topic of improving re-entry services for offenders and to announce more than $1 million in grants to support Delaware’s re-entry initiatives. These re-entry investments ““ a key component of Gov. Carney’s efforts to reduce Delaware’s recidivism rate ““ are driven by Executive Order 27, which created the Delaware Correctional Re-entry Commission.

Gov. Carney praised the “hard work of the Delaware Correctional Re-entry Commission, the Department of Correction, and agencies across state government who have come together over the past year to improve how we help offenders reenter society and become productive members of our communities.”

Last year the Delaware Department of Education’s Prison Education Program provided instruction to 1,030 students in academics, 484 in life-skills classes and 1,426 in vocational trainings.

“Prison education is an essential component for the successful reintegration of those exiting prison into their communities. Recent research found that correctional education results in lower risks of recidivism and higher rates of employment,” said Director of Adult and Prison Education Maureen Whelan.

Officials from the Departments of Correction, Education, Health and Social Services, Labor, Delaware State Housing Authority, and the Criminal Justice Council have made progress on many of the stated objectives from the Executive Order, including:

  • Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is now available in every prison and work release facility statewide. Today nearly 4% of offenders in these facilities are receiving MAT.
  • The Department of Correction and Department of Education have partnered to administer an educational assessment and vocational skills assessment within the first 45 days of an offender’s sentence.
  • The Department of Correction has established Transition Accountability Plans (TAPs) for every offender with a prison sentence of one year or longer to help them obtain a GED, high school diploma and continuing education and vocational skills training while incarcerated.
  • Planning for offenders’ release from incarceration now begins within their first two months of incarceration, rather than the last two months.
  • Access to community supports, including existing state social services and referrals to career counseling, have been improved through collaboration with the Department of Health and Social Services, Department of Labor and others.
  • A “success rate analysis” model has been developed to measure the short- and long-term impacts of re-entry programs on recidivism.

The state is aggressively pursuing federal and private grant funding to support its re-entry goals, and announced two new grants on Jan. 13:

  • A $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice through the Delaware Criminal Justice Council to fund new programming to support re-entry in prisons and work release/violation of probation centers, establish a Community Resource Center for Sussex County offenders who are targeted to receive intensive re-entry services, including case management and programming, and to fund data analysis conducted by the University of Delaware.
  • Delaware is one of five states to receive a $100,000 grant from the Prison Research Innovation Network to fund the hiring of a Prison Innovation Manager at Howard Young prison to strengthen programming for detentionees and inmates.

I had the chance to watch a dessert cookoff between inmates and Robbie Jester at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Facility but was disappointed to hear that some of the prison’s other re-entry programs had been put on hold due to late-year budget constraints. So, I was glad to hear that the governor got to watch the first day of instruction for a C-tech certification program that is providing telecommunication technologies, cabling, and fiber-optic systems training for 10 inmates. He also toured the DHSS mobile bridge van, which provides re-entry services and referrals for former inmates. The van is funded through the Divisions of Social Services and Substance Abuse and Mental Health as a way to reach out to inmates immediately upon their release from incarceration.

Over the next year, the Delaware Correctional Re-entry Commission, Department of Correction, and state agency partners will continue their re-entry work to meet the following goals:

  • Implement Transition Accountability Plans for offenders in Level V facilities sentenced to one year or more.
  • Implement the data-sharing Memorandum of Understanding that was reached between the Departments of Correction, Education and Labor.
  • Transition Delaware’s work release and violation of probation facilities into reentry centers to better prepare inmates for their return to the community during their final months of incarceration.
  • Continue to expand services, treatment, and education programs, both within state agencies and in partnership with community organizations.

In my interview with Year Up Executive Director Hassan Charles ““ and in interviews last year with the Delaware Restaurant Association and both major construction trade groups ““ one of the key goals of these workforce programs is demystifying the workplace and helping teach students how to feel comfortable in a work environment where they have no experience or exposure.

“The concept of networking is completely foreign to our [Year Up] students,” Charles said. “We offer these types of programs because we don’t take anything for granted.”

It’s exciting what’s going on in Delaware in the area of providing Delaware companies with access to people from communities or environments that have rarely had the opportunity to compete for jobs. And it’s particularly exciting to see more people coming to the table and working together to accelerate the progress of these programs.

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