Preparing Returning Citizens for Reentry

 

Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE) focuses on preparing incarcerated individuals for reentry, which refers to the process of planning to be released from jail or prison and returning to local communities. Reentry has become quite a buzz word utilized by many agencies. Despite enormous monetary and personnel investments into this field, there is still confusion about what might be needed, required, or possible. Maryland has recruited many players for teams whose sole goal is to pave the way for parolees to have a life outside the fence. 

Every state in the U.S. now provides some meaningful reentry support. Maryland dedicates staff and hundreds of community resources to the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism. The Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services (DPSCS) provides Case Managers, Social Workers, mental and physical health professionals, and Regional Transitional Coordinators to help guide returning citizens through a successful reentry process. The Maryland Department of Labor (MDDOL) created five new regional Reentry Navigator positions whose sole aim is to assist returning citizens in transitioning back into the Maryland workforce. Part of their roles are to sign people up for Maryland Workforce Exchange (MWE) and connect them to the American Job Centers (AJC) for assistance in updating and posting resumes. The AJC can also provide guidance in applying for jobs online. Returning citizens who were confined for extensive periods can be referred to dislocated worker programs that focus on familiarizing and training on modern technology and using the internet.

This might sound a bit strange or unexpected, but ideally, reentry preparation is a process that should begin the first day of commitment to an institution. 95% of all of the people in confinement will be released at some point. Modern correctional facilities are more focused on rehabilitation. Initial and periodic assessments are vital to identify key factors that should be considered and addressed either concerning housing, security, or programming. Individuals are encouraged by their Case Managers to participate in institutional programming and job opportunities. One of the most highly coveted jobs in 10 of Maryland’s facilities is working for Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE). 

VIDEO TESTIMONIAL: C.A.R.E.S. PROGRAM

The modern era of Maryland Correctional Enterprises began in 1982 when the Maryland General Assembly created the State Use Industries Act, Article 27, 680-681K, which is currently referred to in the Correctional Services Article Sections 3-501 through 3-528 of the Annotated Code of Maryland. Not every person who applies is accepted by MCE due to high standards of employment. The requirements listed below underscore the value of education and assimilating strong work ethics.

MCE's Employment Requirements:

  1. Must have at least a GED
  2. Have no tickets for institutional rule violations
  3. Be willing to work cooperatively with others
  4. Willing to learn industry-standard skills

Pretend for a minute that you own a company and need to hire staff. A person with a criminal background applies and you are hesitant to hire them. But would you feel differently if this applicant not only had professional skills and certifications but was also punctual, congenial, dependable, and knowledgeable? These are the skills and work ethics MCE aims to imprint on our program participants. Our reentry planning consists of building foundations by starting with adherence to rules and following instructions, followed by identifying individual qualities and interests to enhance strengths and address weaknesses. Skills are acquired, hourly salaries and bonuses are accumulated. Diminution or otherwise known as "good time credits" are earned and utilized toward the deduction of a sentence end date. MCE fosters an atmosphere of productivity and self-worth. The members of our workforce serving life sentences often mentor younger employees who will be released. National studies continue to show that involvement in correctional industry programming has a positive impact on state recidivism rates.

It is hard to function in society without three things: 

1. Social Security Card 

2. Birth Certificate

3. Official ID

As our employees near their release dates, their Case Managers work with our DPSCS Social Workers to ensure that there is a home plan, application for health insurance, and that vital records such as social security cards and birth certificates are located or applied for if at all possible. These documents are the first step in enabling returning citizens to find adequate housing and job opportunities upon release. 

MCE’s C.A.R.E.S. Program

Since 2008, MCE has provided the Continuing Allocation of Reentry Services Program (C.A.R.E.S.) to eligible participants. These classes run for nearly six months and cover workforce development, financial literacy, and an NIC cognitive-behavioral program, Thinking for a Change or T4C. The classes have also included InsideOut Dad. The C.A.R.E.S. program is currently on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but our goal is to expand the program as soon as it is safe to do so.

DOWNLOAD: C.A.R.E.S. Case Study

Because MCE supports the successful reentry of our current and former employees, a Reentry Management form is sent to them to complete within two months of release. We then attempt to provide guidance and resources, work with case management and other agencies, and contact family members to promote successful transitions. We are also working with DPSCS to grow our list of “Champion Employers” that are willing to hire returning citizens.  Although there is a one-time tax benefit to companies who hire people with criminal backgrounds, some employers still have concerns. The Federal Government provides business owners with six months of cost free bonding against theft or larceny to encourage hiring individuals who have convictions on their record. The MDDOL will provide companies with the letters and certificates of bonding.

When possible, we frequently follow up with people post-release in hopes of creating long-standing relationships. Maintaining ties not only supports and follows an individual's progress but also maintains our connection to our valued former workforce which can assist them in future employment referrals.

Written By: Janet Lane