A stable job for those exiting the criminal justice system - Metropolitan Planning Council

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A stable job for those exiting the criminal justice system

Finding work and housing for justice-involved people is notoriously difficult. One big opportunity for stability is manufacturing. Here's a look at a program by Manufacturing Renaissance, the Safer Foundation, and West Side Forward

Image courtesy Safer Foundation

In 2013, the Chicago Community Trust convened a small meeting of workforce training providers including Dan Swinney from Manufacturing Renaissance (MR), Diane Williams of the Safer Foundation, Ray Prendergast of the Jane Addams Resource Corporation, and Brenda Palms Barber of the North Lawndale Employment Network to discuss the possibility of developing training programs that could lead to family-supporting jobs for men and women returning to their communities from prison.

MR already had positive experience in placing people with convictions in manufacturing companies.  If a person was technically competent, drug free, and straight forward about their background, manufacturers were more than willing to hire them. Manufacturers needed the talent. MR suggested a pilot project to explore the placement potential for people with convictions in manufacturing in partnership with the Safer Foundation, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), Daley College, and Manufacturing Works—the city’s workforce development program. MR designed the program that was called the Return Advantage Program. 

With a grant from the Chicago Community Trust, the program was initiated. Safer Foundation proposed to recruit 15 clients from its West Side Adult Transition Centers to participate. The Adult Transition Centers are work release residential facilities operated on behalf of the Illinois Department of Corrections. The facilities provide a comprehensive set of programs and services to individuals finishing their last two years of a state prison sentence. As residents of these facilities, they are prepared to secure private sector employment as a critical element of their reentry plan.  

The program created included introductory training on CNC Lathe and Mill simulators, as well as refresher courses in math designed to prepare them to be successful in earning nationally recognized portable industry credentials from NIMS. After leaving the Adult Transition Centers, the parolees had the opportunity to work and learn on CNC mills and lathes at Daley College while continuing to receive support services from Safer Foundation. They were then placed in jobs with local manufacturing companies. The results were incredible: 

Funder Benchmarks 

Funder Target 

Attained 

 

percent (number) 

percent (number) 

Enrollment 

15 

17 

Completion 

80% (12) 

88% (15) 

Graduates obtaining Employment 

70% (8.4) 

100% (15) 

30 day retention 

70% (5.9) 

100% (15) 

90 day retention 

70% (4.1) 

100% (15) 

This chart compares targets established by the principal funder with actual results

Of the 15 graduates, 13 are working with Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines and two graduates work in other fields.  

At the time the program concluded, individuals being released from prisons around the state had a recidivism rate of nearly 50%. Almost half the people released from prison were back in jail or prison within three years. Individuals participating in advanced manufacturing training and securing employment have an average 10% recidivism rate.

Beyond the success of the training and employment placement, the participants received two additional important benefits. First, they earned salaries well above minimum wage. The training, employment, and wages also positively impacted the recidivism rates of the participants. At the time the program concluded, individuals being released from prisons around the state had a recidivism rate of nearly 50%. Almost half the people released from prison were back in jail or prison within three years. Individuals participating in advanced manufacturing training and securing employment have an average 10% recidivism rate. 

The Chicago Community Trust funded the advanced manufacturing training program in future years. Safer Foundation used the model created in partnership with MR to apply for a US Department of Labor (DOL) grant titled Training to Work. The Training to Work grant enabled Safer Foundation to train an additional 300 people in manufacturing and other high demand industries like transportation and distribution. The success of both the Chicago Community Trust and DOL Training to Work grant led to Safer Foundation developing and launching the Safer Demand Skills Collaborative Program (SDSC). SDSC focuses on high demand industries that require industry recognized credentials. SDSC is a collaboration of training providers, employers, and Safer Foundation's workforce development team to recruit, train, and place clients in high demand, living wage occupations. SDSC focuses on manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, IT, and banking. Finally, Safer Foundation was able to secure a four-year $4.5M DOL grant Advancing Careers & Employment which expanded the number trained for high demand industry jobs to 650 in Northwest, Southern and Southwest Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa. 

The first partnership with Manufacturing Renaissance, NIMS, Manufacturing Works, Daley College, and the Chicago Community Trust was the catalyst for a successful demand industry employment model that has now resulted in more than a thousand Safer Foundation clients earning industry recognized credentials and securing living wage employment since 2013. These initiatives continually result in Safer Foundation clients breaking the cycle of incarceration and poverty. 

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