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Guest Post: Re-entry Program Needs

Sep 3rd, 2015 • Re-entry

*Guest post by Richard Wise

Employers should band together in formal tracts (7-10 major employer groups) to develop and implement in-house formal, collective processes and programs with shared best practices to recruit, train, improve and sustain a more meaningful quality of life to a larger subgroup of the formerly incarcerated (ex-offenders) population, even ex-felons. As a moral obligation grounded in forgiveness and second chance offerings and for the sake of public safety in the community, such a consortium of Employer Tract focus may yield greater community dividends reflected in lower crime rates, greater public safety, and a broader recognition of hope for the returning ex-offender population, labeled as reentry candidates, but lack a host of resources that prohibit them from counting the meaning of re- entry as an uplifting lifestyle reordering journey they can look forward to.

There are a number of existing re-entry programs that do positively impact the lives of some re-entry candidates.  Across the country and even here in Indianapolis there are a number of helpful social and job training-employment programs that assist members of the re-entry population to locate, secure and keep gainful employment. Many candidates of such gainful employment opportunities move on to meaningful and productive lives and join the ranks of productive citizens.  They go to work every day, pay taxes, reconnect with their families, buy homes, raise their kids and send them off to college, pay taxes, and eventually prosper away from the former lifestyles that led to their former incarcerations and over-engagement with the criminal justice system.

Re-entry programs that are job training and employment focused are great options for a number of ex-offenders. Sadly though, the number of re-entry candidates that do benefit and move on is disproportionately low in comparison to the larger remaining subgroup of reentry candidates who don’t benefit at all, receive limited and temporary benefits due to dwindling and limited resources or other disengaging environmental barriers that largely and too often contribute to recidivism.

This write-up does not address debilitating, damaging psychological and emotional sufferings experienced by many re-entry candidates before during and after long-terms incarceration. Internalized and crippling psychological and emotional damages associated with little to no education, criminal activity and long-term incarceration renders many so called re-entry candidates untrainable and unemployable until such factors can appropriately be addressed and overcome.

The focus here is on the position statement noted earlier, Employer Tracts as one alternative to enhancing long-term and meaningful employment prospects that will impact a larger subgroup of the re-entry/ex-offender population. A consortium of Employer Tracts should yield upward mobility to long-term employment numbers and percent of the re-entry population and downward impact with recidivism numbers and percent.

I will site re-entry program examples that, in my opinion, rank as model, progressive and aspiring; ranging from ones I’m most familiar with through personal experience, awareness and interaction to ones less familiar and researched through internet searches. All the examples focus on job training and employment opportunities for re-entry candidates. All programs can point to successes and losses through recidivism.

Regarding the occurrences of recidivism, it’s a relapse, a truly negative, not positive occurrence; it’s the loss column in a Profit and Loss statement, the ultimate cancer statistic that contradicts re-entry goals. Wikipedia provides a succinct yet comprehensive meaning to it.

“Recidivism (/rɨˈsɪdɨvɪzəm/; from recidive and ism, from Latin recidīvus “recurring”, from re- “back” and cadō “I fall”) is the act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after he/she has either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or has been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior. It is also used to refer to the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested for a similar offense.[1]:/

The term is frequently used in conjunction with criminal behavior and substance abuse. (Recidivism is a synonym for “relapse”… “

In addition some compelling reasons citing in the Wikipedia article that supports the need for a consortium of Employer Tracts approach are as follows.

“The effect of incarceration on former prisoners has been a very common topic of discussion for many years. In most cases, it is believed that many prisoners will find themselves right back where they started, in jail. According to an April 2011 report by the Pew Center on the States, the average national recidivism rate for released prisoners is 43.3%.[2]

In recent history, the rate of incarceration in the U.S. has increased dramatically, resulting in prisons being filled to capacity with bad conditions and environments for inmates. In many prisons, crime continues inside the prison walls. Gangs exist and flourish on the inside, often with many key tactical decisions being made by leaders who are in jail.[3]

While the US justice system has traditionally focused its efforts at the front end of the system, by locking people up, it has not exerted an equal effort at the tail end of the system: decreasing the likelihood of reoffending among formerly incarcerated persons. This is a significant issue because ninety-five percent of prisoners will be released back into the community at some point.[4]

According to a national study published in 2003 by The Urban Institute, within three years almost 7 out of 10 released males will be rearrested and half will be back in prison.[3] The study says this happens due to personal and situation characteristics, including the individual’s social environment of peers, family, community, and state-level policies.[3] “.

In summary, the over 40% national recidivism rate is a reflection of ex-offenders committing same or similar crimes that leads to re-incarceration, or they fail to meet probation requirements and other technical requirements which too often compel the sitting judge presiding over their offenses to re- incarcerate them. A more collective and comprehensive employer based-consortium Employer Tract approach is needed.


Model – RecycleForce

Beginning in June of 2006, I was employed by the City of Indianapolis, Department of Public Works, as the Environmental Manager responsible for staff that implemented and maintained the City’s environmental programs. Staff prepared a request for proposal for and solicited responses for the City’s electronic recycling programs – e-waste. Staff evaluated responders on a number of factors including a community or social benefit.  The award went to a local social enterprise called Workforce, which later underwent a name change to RecycleForce. Below are excerpts from their website. The program is the most comprehensive success story for hundreds of re-entry candidates employed in their job training program, many of which ultimately received long-term gainful employment after the RecycleForce experience.

“A cleaner environment. A stronger workforce.”

RecycleForce2, a 501(c) 3 organization, is a social enterprise offering some of the most comprehensive and innovative recycling services around while providing life-changing workforce training to formerly incarcerated individuals.  Taking the electronic waste and other recyclables provided by residents and corporate partners, RecycleForce deconstructs these items, recycles the materials and disposes of the waste safely and cleanly. The scrap metals and other reusable materials collected in this process are then sold to help pay for job training programs and employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated men and women in order to support their re-entry back into society. RecycleForce has experienced tremendous growth both in its recycling services and its job training programs.

After launching in 2006, RecycleForce (formerly known as Workforce, Inc.) has gone from two workers and 600,000 pounds of processed materials to more than 75 employees and 6 million pounds of processed recyclables annually. While RecycleForce began specializing in recycling electronic waste, it has expanded to offer recycling collection for a whole host of materials, including plastic, aluminum, paper and cardboard. Since its inception, RecycleForce has helped clean up our environment by processing a total of 11 million pounds of recyclable material. As its recycling operation grew, so did RecycleForce’ s capability to employ and train hundreds of ex-offenders, successfully guiding their re-entry back into the community.

Formerly incarcerated individuals have the odds stacked against them upon their release. Most have no job and no home to return to. Without these foundational elements, the rate of reoffending and returning to the criminal justice system is incredibly high. In fact, more than half of all ex-offenders returning to Indianapolis/Marion County in 2009 ended up back in the prison system. RecycleForce’ s workforce program focused on transitional jobs, employability skills training and supportive services, has successfully placed more than 360 ex-offender workers in full-time paid employment. The recidivism rate for these workers has been only 25% — significantly less that the local and national averages.

This statistic lends credence to RecycleForce President Gregg Keesling’s belief that “Once we give a man a fighting chance to do the right thing, many, in fact most, will.”

Creating jobs and changing lives. RecycleForce is a prime example of how social causes can be brought together to have a broader community impact.

Using the revenue generated by its recycling business, RecycleForce is helping formerly incarcerated individuals rebuild their lives by providing gainful employment and comprehensive social services. RecycleForce helps ex-offenders break down the barriers to employment by providing transitional jobs for up to six months, as well as comprehensive services designed to get their lives back on track. The RecycleForce model offers program participants an integrated focus on jobs skills, character development and personal counseling. This “wrap-around” approach greatly increases the chance of sustained future employment and decreases the instances of re-offending.

The RecycleForce program extends well beyond the six-month transitional job opportunity. By working with industry partners and employers committed to hiring ex-offenders, RecycleForce helps facilitate the transition for program participants from temporary work to full-time, gainful employment.

As the recipient of a 2013 Community Crime Prevention Grant, RecycleForce served 30 offenders referred from Duvall Residential Center. Program participants received a dozen OSHA training certifications, temporary employment to develop work skills, assistance with managing reentry mandates, and permanent job placement assistance.

Though a great model program that positively impacts the lives of many re-entry candidates, the program is in need of critical alternative market revenue streams to sustain operations, jobs, and jobs growth to enable it to be even more successful. Referring to their 2013 annual report, more than 60% of their total funding that pays salaries and overhead has historically come from end of life grants such as from the USDJ. A more sustainable revenue source or consortium of Employer Tracts can contribute to greater successes from RecycleForce by partnering with them and servings as recipients of qualified job ready re-entry candidates graduating from the program.

Progressive – The Indiana Plan for Equal Employment

On its main website page The Indiana Plans purpose is stated as follows:

“The Indiana Plan’s mission is to address and correct the problem of low minority participation in the union building trades. To do this, we offer comprehensive services for both the signatory contractors who work with us to find recruits, and also for the minority and women workers we help train and find jobs in the union construction industry in Indiana.

If you are a minority or woman worker who seeks a career in Indiana’s union construction industry, you can apply online to get the process started. If you are a construction contractor that needs assistance finding and training minority and women candidates for employment, contact the Indiana Plan’s Indianapolis office at (317) 639-4661 for information. We can help you stay in compliance with all applicable federal mandates.

The Indiana Plan for Equal Employment is a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit corporation. Thank you for your support!”

I recently had the pleasure of meeting the new Executive Director, Devon Doss. What are impressive stats about their construction trades education program are their focus recruitment efforts on minorities, women, ex-offenders, low income and youth graduating from high school who are not seeking a college education. The program is an 80 hour pre-apprenticeship (readiness) program. Though Devon, a 20 + year Electrician and graduate of the Indiana Plan, has been Executive Director less than one year, he’s had 25 candidates complete their training 11 trade job placements and 6 accepted into apprentice programs with others on a waiting list. More than half of all candidates and apprenteship candidates are minority, female and ex-offenders.

All these jobs are union scale jobs that pay prevailing wage rates. Of all employment opportunities, I’m told the construction trades are the greatest in demand and the most forgiving when it comes to the ex-offender re-entry population. How can a consortium Employer Tract Program increase the number of re-entry candidates into the building and construction trades through the Indiana Plan? For one, the sponsoring supporters of the Indiana Plan are construction companies of various trade disciplines. This in-house group can form Employer Tracts and assist Devon in his recruitment efforts to attract more re-entry candidates to pursue careers in the building construction trades.

Devon has creatively marketed the program through RecycleForce, the Indianapolis Urban League, Goodwill Industries, and a host of other referral candidates. What can boost the program’s success is the consortium Employer Tract Program of 7-10 companies committed to best practices that open employment opportunities for job ready re-entry candidates through the tract members.

Aspiring – New Life Development Ministries LLC (Reentry is What Ee Do…)

Eugene Potter, Founder and Executive Director of NLDM LLC, is a minister and champion of re-entry causes. An Indianapolis Recorder article pretty much sums up the value of this program. See part of the exerts below.

Clifton Street on Indianapolis’ Near Northwest side is not the most exciting or picturesque street, but once you hit the 2800 block, you can’t help but see a bright yellow building.

This is no ordinary building – but one that promotes education, accountability and most importantly, opportunity. This building is the home of New Life Development Ministries, a unique nonprofit program for ex-offenders that is blossoming due to its “show and prove” attitude.

“What God has done, a little at a time, has given us an opportunity. And those opportunities were stepping stones to other opportunities,” said Rev. Eugene Potter, founder and president of the 20-year-old ministry.

Once released from prison, male and female ex-offenders are accepted into the program and are able to learn construction related trades such as millwork, carpentry, plumbing, flooring and painting.

They are able to get hands-on experience by working on New Life’s building, including the bright yellow paint, and homes purchased by the program. Some participants are even able to rent the homes, mostly located on Udell Street, once construction is complete.

“Construction is probably the most forgiving industry for re-entrants,” explained Potter, who is also a licensed contractor and associate minister at Mt. Zion Apostolic Church. “If you can put a roof on, they’ll say ‘go at it.’ But if an ex offender walks into a bank, that may not work out for them.”

About 35 ex-offenders are currently in the program. Only those who have proven themselves worthy, excel in the trade and have also mastered soft skills such as grooming and effective communication, can go on to work for other construction companies or find employment at NLDM Enterprises LLC, the ministry’s for-profit construction firm. Re- entrants can make anywhere from $9 to $20 per hour. After reconnecting with Eugene in October 2014 through a mutual friend I scheduled a couple of meetings with him and interested parties involved the construction trades to see how we could help. The outcome to those meetings affirmed why I’ve concluded that the program needs sustainable support through a consortium Employer Tract Program.


Re-entry support programs are numerous in number, too often small in stature and overly supported by gifts, grants and volunteerism, all for good reasons, none sustainable for traction and growth to make the impact needed to drive down national recidivism numbers and elevate long-term employment outcomes to a larger sub-group of the re-entry population. Large employer, resource laden consortiums of Employer Tract (7-10 employers) represent the best candidates to move the long-term success needle in the direction of grown and sustainability.

Sources – 1;

Recycle Force Links – 2:

2013 Annual Report link – 3 4 5