A new program designed to provide job-related services to former inmates and keep them out of jail or prison was launched by the Santa Barbara County Probation Department last week.
The Prison to Employment program is a partnership between the Probation Department and Goodwill Industries that will provide services such as job placement and work skills to 38 individuals in the hopes it will reduce recidivism and help them become self-sufficient, according to Kim Shean, a deputy chief probation officer who oversees all adult supervision.
The program was launched on the same day the County Board of Supervisors approved a $346,848 contract with Goodwill that lasts from Oct. 6, 2020, to June, 30, 2022. Funding came in the form of a grant from the state and pays for services that include matching individuals with employers, or even providing them with food, clothes or transportation.
But what’s different about this program is that it provides “subsidized employment,” or will pay individuals who are transitioning back into the community.
It’s the first time the county has offered such a program. There are currently no disqualifying factors, but the person must demonstrate a desire to improve, according to Shean. Once they commit, individuals will have access to resources.
“They are showing readiness to change and expressing that to us,” Shean said. “We want to capitalize on when people get out of custody and want to make changes in their lives.”
Shean compared it to a school work-study program and hopes employers will see the benefits of hiring former inmates, adding that it’s meant to wean the individual off the system.
The program provides former inmates 170 hours of paid work experience and up to $450 in support services, according to Laura Kistner, director of workforce services for Goodwill in Ventura County.
“Most of the money is going to the participants, which is how they want it to be,” Kistner said.
A similar Ventura County program, Second Chance, benefited LaToya, a 39-year-old former inmate convicted of involuntary manslaughter who received a position at Goodwill.
LaToya, who didn’t provide her last name because of her past conviction, graduated from firefighting school in Corona and served two years on an inmate crew with the Los Angeles County Fire Department in Malibu.
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She planned to continue the career path and enroll in a Camarillo program following her release in 2018 but said she was told it was available only to men. Interviews landed her jobs elsewhere, although she was let go after background checks revealed her conviction.
The job at Goodwill not only gave LaToya valid work experience but confidence. She earned a forklift certification and is now a supervisor.
"The support that I've gotten here is passed down," LaToya said. "The people here helped me and pushed me to get where I need to be. Never give up."
Such programs have shown to be successful among “hard-to-employ” groups, such as ex-offenders, although they come with drawbacks, according to the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp., a New York-based nonprofit with offices in Oakland and Los Angeles.
“Evaluations of subsidized employment programs suggest that they are effective at providing jobs in the short term but are less successful at helping participants transition to unsubsidized employment,” according to the MDRC’s Dan Bloom, who added that ancillary benefits include reduced welfare receipt and decreased recidivism.
Retention is a key component of the program, which includes case management services that help individuals develop communication and social skills to handle everyday workplace problems, according to Shean.
Shean added this is especially crucial for younger people in the 18-25 age group who usually do not have long periods of steady employment, which also serves as an employment barrier.
The program’s timing couldn’t be more useful in the era of COVID-19, which has prompted the early release of thousands of inmates, according to Shean.
Since March 1, County Probation has experienced a 73% increase in early releases due to the coronavirus, accounting for an additional 72 individuals on top of the 99 the department would normally receive during this period, Shean added.