(INDIANAPOLIS) – The Indiana Department of Correction has the tremendous responsibility of keeping our facilities safe and secure for each offender, staff, and the public in general. But our responsibility goes far beyond physical aspects. We work diligently to provide educational opportunities for offenders, inclusive of life and vocational skills, to make their time of incarceration meaningful. It’s important to know and understand the vast majority of offenders – about 90% – will be released.
To my last point, allow me to clear up a common misperception about those who are sentenced to serve time. Contrary to what many think, it is not the practice to “lock them up and throw away the key.” Nearly all offenders will serve their time and return to our communities. Therefore it is our duty to prepare offenders for a successful re-entry.
One of the most critical components to success for citizens leaving incarceration is finding meaningful employment. Statistically, unemployed former offenders are 78% more likely to re-offend and return to prison compared to those who have stable jobs. Knowing this, a primary goal at the IDOC is to identify meaningful employment prior to release with our three-step process: Training – Readiness – HIRE.
Step 1: Training
As part of Governor Holcomb’s Next Level Agenda, the IDOC was challenged to certify 1,000 offenders by the year 2020 in high demand occupations.
In response, we launched welding programs in nine correctional facilities, as well as The Last Mile computer coding program for offenders in five facilities, and further bolstered our building trades, metal, and electrical work certifications.
As a result of the incredible efforts put forth by dedicated IDOC staff, and offenders who were driven to succeed, we shattered the 1,000 goal—and did so a full year ahead of schedule with a total of 3,007 certificates awarded in high demand fields by the conclusion of 2018.
Step 2. Readiness
Have you ever forgotten or misplaced your driver’s license? Do you remember the panic you felt until it was safely back in hand? Ponder this, how about not even having an ID at all?
To alleviate this stress the IDOC works diligently to provide offenders with re-entry readiness tools. In 2018 we partnered with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles to issue 3,177 identification cards. Additionally, we retrieved 4,051 birth certificates and 3,839 social security cards for soon-to-be-released offenders.
Another challenge to overcome is a reluctance to hire former offenders. To help ease such concerns an Offender Passport was created. The passport includes a detailed overview of the offender’s education, programming participation, employment, and general conduct history.
With the right training, proper identification, and background history in hand, it’s time to get hired.
Step 3: HIRE
This step is crucial – finding meaningful employment for offenders before being released.
HIRE stands for Hoosier Initiative for Re-Entry program. Created in 2012 by the Department of Workforce Development to help returning offenders reintegrate into society. At the recommendation of Governor Holcomb, the HIRE program was transitioned to the IDOC in early 2019. With this transition, I challenged our HIRE team to assist the soon-to-be-released offenders by early engagement of employers through:
- Virtual Job Fairs
- Facility Tours
- Coordinate pre-release interviews through face-to-face, phone, and video interaction
- IDOC Employer Days
In the short time since integration with the IDOC, the HIRE staff has made tremendous strides. As the year 2020 rapidly approaches, I’m highly confident more offenders will leave our facilities with meaningful employment and bright futures.
Next Level Employees, Neighbors, and Citizens
You may be thinking, “This sounds great for those returning from incarceration, but what does this mean to me?” I want each person reading this to know my staff and I are working to prepare these returning citizens for success. This success translates into a stronger workforce for Indiana, where former drainers of tax dollars become contributors. It means your homes are being built stronger, buildings are welded better, and those apps you’re using aren’t crashing. But even more than that, it means we’re returning better neighbors and that translates into safer communities where all Hoosiers can thrive and reach their personal next level.