Businesses Need Employees. Reentry Citizens Need Jobs. PA DOC is Bridging the Gap
June 16, 2021
When you think of someone “doing time,” what image comes to mind? How do you think they spend their days? What type of person do you imagine who is a felon? The typical images we see on television and in the movies include gangs, working out with weights, inmates sitting in their cells, or notorious felons like Charles Manson.
Reality inside the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) and Parole Board (Parole) is very different. PA DOC and Parole have two goals when it comes to Workforce Development - GOAL (Inside): Ensure inmates are “job ready” at any step of incarceration. GOAL (Outside): Assist employers with workforce needs and show the benefit of hiring our population. PA DOC and Parole addressed employers biggest “asks” for entry level applicants: 1) Career Awareness, 2) Hands on Experience, and 3) Soft/Employability Skills.
Inside the PA DOC
The PA DOC maintains 24 State Correctional Institutions (SCIs) across the Commonwealth, with approximately 37,000 inmates. Inside the SCIs, inmates are offered the opportunity to participate in education and/or vocational classes, inmate employment, and reentry services. In 2020, PA DOC and Parole combined the areas of Education, Treatment Services and Reentry into the Bureau of Reentry Coordination. This change has improved operations and increased communication between these areas, resulting in improved continuity of care.
The Division of Correction Education (DCE) oversees schools in the SCIs. The schools have a principal, counselor, adult basic education teachers, GED teachers, special education teachers, and vocational teachers. Their mission statement is “to provide educational opportunities which will enable students to become responsible and productive citizens in a diverse society.” DCE offers the following educational opportunities inside the SCIs:
- Commonwealth Secondary Diploma
- School Aged Youth Program
- Special Education
DCE also offers 28 vocational programs throughout the SCIs:
- Auto Mechanics/Technician
- Barber School
- Barber Shop
- Custodial Maintenance
- Electricity (Electrician)
- Fiber Optics
- Green Environment
- Interior Finish
- JGL Lift
- Machine Shop
- Optical Assistant
- Restaurant Trades
- Ward Flex (on hold)
- Warehouse Operations
Each of the vocational programs offer nationally accredited certifications. A list of vocational programs and certifications can be found online at https://www.cor.pa.gov/Inmates/Pages/Vocational-Programs.aspx.
Beginning in December 2017, SCIs began offering a new class, “Pathway to Success,” that addresses the “career awareness” aspect employers requested. The curriculum is taught in one semester, or sixty hours, with the following modules.
- O*Net Interest Assessment
- Jobs Not Available Due to Criminal Record
- Understanding Job Opportunities in Location of Reentry
- Introduction to Career Pathways
- Introduction to Opportunities at SCIs
- Creation of a Career Plan
- Introduction to PA CareerLink System
- Resume, Cover Letters, and Applications
- Interview Skills
- What to Expect When Paroled
- Finalizing Your Career Pathway
If you would like to learn more about the educational opportunities inside the SCIs, please contact Chief Terri Fazio at email@example.com.
Inmate Employment and Correctional Industries
Employers are looking for applicants with “hands on experience.” The PA DOC offers inmate employment within the SCIs in two different forms.
Each SCI is run like a little city. Every part of the facility, including food, janitorial, and maintenance, is supported by inmates along with staff. Employment is offered to inmates in vocations such as janitors, food service, maintenance, warehouse, landscaping, etc. These jobs work an average of six hours per day, five days a week. Inmates are paid for these jobs and receive valuable work experience for their resume and future employment upon release. An inmate once shared, “this may not be the job you want, but you can learn something from it, and it will give you something to put on your resume.”
Another way for inmates to work inside the SCI is employment with Correctional Industries (CI). Pennsylvania CI work programs are modeled after the real world. Here are some examples of CI positions:
- Inventory Clerk
- Laundry Worker
- Machine Operator
- Machine Repair
- Maintenance Worker
- Warehouse Worker
Additional information on CI can be found online at https://www.cor.pa.gov/PCI/Pages/default.aspx.
In 2020, the Deputy Secretary (DS) of Reentry, Kelly Evans, wanted all inmates to be provided reentry services and to open a Reentry Service Office (RSO) in every SCI. RSOs provide information, service referrals, workshops, and other risk-reducing activities to inmates prior to release to help them ease their transition back into the community. The workshops are often conducted by the reentry parole agents (RPAs), PA DOC staff and local community providers so that inmates can start to make critical links with services that they may actually access upon release. One of the links inmates can make while inside the SCI is enrolling in PA CareerLink®. The site allows inmates to create a resume and look for jobs 30 days prior to release. This is a mandatory first step toward receiving PA CareerLink® services and minimizes the chance of delay upon release.
COVID-19 required massive changes to the day-to-day operations inside SCIs. Daniel McIntyre, Director, Bureau of Reentry Coordination, sums it up best. “The Pandemic really tested our ability to provide quality programming and treatment while ensuring the safety of staff and inmate/reentrant populations. We were able to reduce waiting lists and increase in-cell programming opportunities during these difficult times.” He continued, “staff worked tirelessly to improve programming, educational opportunities and even provide support in the community through various virtual platforms.”
During the pandemic, SCIs achieved the following accomplishments:
- Over 200 inmates obtained their GEDs
- Over 400 received secondary diplomas
- Almost 5,000 received vocational certificates
- Streamlined in-cell programming and reduced program waiting lists
As DS Evans shared, “the PA DOC is in the business of second chances, it is our mission to give inmates the tools they need to succeed upon release. Education and vocational training are one vital piece in assisting them with this success in the hopes that upon release our inmates will become successful, tax paying members of our communities.”
Additional information on how PA DOC responded to COVID-19 can be found online at https://www.cor.pa.gov/Pages/COVID-19.aspx.
Outside the PA DOC and into Parole
Support and services do not stop after someone is released from an SCI. Once on parole, a number of services and opportunities are available. As of April 2021, there are approximately 40,200 reentrants under supervision across the Commonwealth.
Community Reentry Parole Agents (CRPAs)
A CRPA is a specialized agent who conducts parole orientation workshops, provides information on resources, and conducts workshops or one-on-one meetings for parolees in the surrounding areas of district and sub offices for Parole. The CRPA provides valuable information and assistance to reentrants on parole.
CRPAs facilitate orientation for newly released inmates who are returning to their community under parole supervision. At orientation, each reentrant learns of the expectations and rules associated with parole requirements, is assessed for any immediate needs, is provided information on services available in the community, and educated on the role of the CRPA and how they can help. One of the services offered is employment assistance. The CRPA helps reentrants identify work-related skills and abilities, prepare a resume, learn to interview, and search for employment opportunities.
If a reentrant needs additional services, CRPAs connect them with resources within the community to help them become successful. Through the assistance of Reentry Service contracts and partners, additional services are available to the reentrant; especially if they do not have the means to pay for the service.
Additional reentry service information can be found online at https://www.cor.pa.gov/community-reentry/Pages/default.aspx.
Workforce Development Specialist – Dorenda Hamarlund
In September 2019, the PA DOC and Parole created the Workforce Development Specialist position to streamline the flow of information between internal and external stakeholders.
This position is responsible for:
- Working with PA DOC and Parole staff and outside organizations to implement meaningful learning opportunities for inmates
- Establishing community connections to create a continuity of support so that reentrants gain and sustain employment and reduce their chance of recidivism
- Serving as a single point of contact for outside employers, community colleges, training programs, and unions
- Collaborating with reentry partners to understand reentrants’ barriers to employment
- Working with employers to understand where reentrants are finding employment and providing employers with information about the programming and training inmates receive
- Collaborating with DCE to ensure programs are in line with in-demand jobs
- Serving as a liaison with the Department of Labor & Industry and Workforce Development Boards
- Sharing the benefits of hiring reentrants with employers and other community partners through community roundtables and panel discussions
With the Pennsylvania unemployment rate rising to 7.4% in April 2021, employers are desperately seeking employees. Ms. Hamarlund speaks with employees on a daily basis to see how the PA DOC and Parole can assist with their workforce needs. Working one-on-one with employers to “paint a picture” of their ideal candidate, Ms. Hamarlund then relays the information to PA DOC and Parole staff to find suitable job candidates to fill the positions. As of April 2021, there are currently 9,800 parolees who are able to work but unemployed. Hiring this population is a great way to decrease the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania.
In addition to the support of Parole staff, there are many financial benefits to hiring a reentrant. Per DS Evans, “our partnership with the business community and employers is essential and Dorenda Hamarlund has been instrumental in promoting the benefits of hiring reentrants and connecting them with employers. We have heard from many of our partners in the business community that reentrants are some of their best employees and this is a tribute to the great work of our educational and vocational staff, they are truly vested in giving inmates the foundation and skills that they need to succeed upon release.”
Flagger Force (https://flaggerforce.com/workforce/) is a valued employment partner of PA DOC and Parole. In 2019, Flagger Force approached PA DOC and Parole to help fill their open positions. When the topic of transportation barriers came up, Flagger Force quickly developed a solution. The company offers an opportunity for reentrants to pair up with a mentor. Each day, the reentrant and mentor meet at a mutually decided location, and the mentor drives both to the job site. For many reentrants, lack of a valid driver’s license or transportation is a significant barrier to employment. Flagger Force has given many reentrants the opportunity to work and promote throughout our partnership.
Ms. Hamarlund is available to educate employers and community partners on the benefits of hiring a reentrant. She has presented at various statewide trainings, participated in podcasts, and sits on many committees on workforce development. She has also partnered with various chambers of commerce to present this information to their membership.
If you are an employer looking for eager, qualified applicants, please contact Dorenda Hamarlund at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional information on the workforce efforts of PA DOC and Parole is available online at https://www.cor.pa.gov/community-reentry/Pages/Workforce-Development.aspx.