AFRO Wednesday 07-01-2015

The nonprofit works directly with court involved youth, through the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) and Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative (Right Turn).

A Washington, D.C. nonprofit is among the awardees of $59 million in grants recently awarded by the Department of Labor to organizations who help to foster employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated adults and youth.

In announcing the grants, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said that giving a second chance to those involved in the criminal justice system is smart policy from which the nation benefits – the economy is strengthened, the grants provide a good return on investment for taxpayers and they answer a moral imperative by fighting poverty and expanding opportunity.

“The president has been relentless in his pursuit of smart criminal justice policy,” Perez said during a press call. “Until very recently, the assumption was that we could build our way to public safety. We spent millions and millions of taxpayer dollars on fences and barbed wire. But at the end of the day, 95 percent of those we locked up were returning home worse off than before. We’re finally getting smart on crime, recognizing that not every tool in your arsenal has to be a hammer. We can’t just lock people up, we also have to unlock their potential.

“Strong investments like the ones we’re making today, give families and communities renewed hope and renewed vitality.”

Such hope is a much needed commodity in the District’s Black community. African Americans represent 90 percent of the current inmate population in a city that is only 55 percent Black, according to the D.C. Department of Corrections. And, most of those inmates hail from the impoverished Ward 8.

Every year more than 600,000 Americans are released from state and federal prisons and 11 million cycle through local jails, according to White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz. And, too many cycle right back into the system. For example, two-thirds of state prisoners are re-arrested in three years. In the District, 23 percent of those imprisoned for more than one year are re-incarcerated.

A key contributing factor to such recidivism is lack of access to well-paying jobs. “Research tell us what we intuitively know, which is that stable employment is a very important predictor of successful re-entry and avoiding crime,” Muñoz said. “But that is particularly tough for this group because they’ve been out of the job market, and on average have more limited education and skills, and there’s also strong evidence of significant discrimination by employers against people with a criminal record.”

The grants are targeted to areas with the highest need. “The grants focus on the places that need them the most – high-poverty, high-crime communities,” Muñoz said.

One portion of the disbursement, $27.5 million is being awarded through the “Training to Work” program which assists men and women enrolled in state or local work release programs. The nonprofit organizations are ones that have established connections to employers, and the program participants will be trained for “in-demand” jobs, increasing their chances of immediate employment.

The remaining $31.5 million will be divided into 15 grants through the Department’s youth-focused “Face Forward” program. Grantees are expected to offer a range of services, including case management with family support, mentoring, training that leads to industry recognized credentials, and work-based learning opportunities.

The D.C.-based Institute for Educational Leadership received a little under $5 million under the latter program. More than 50 years old, the organization’s mission is to build the capacity of individuals, organizations, systems, and communities to work together to prepare all children and youth for postsecondary education, careers, and citizenship. Through its Center for Workforce Development, the nonprofit works directly with court-involved youth, including those with disabilities, in 10 states and the District of Columbia through the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) and Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative (Right Turn).

“Youth involved in the juvenile justice system represent one of the most vulnerable populations in our country and youth with disabilities make up a disproportionate number of this population,” said Curtis Richards, director of the Center for Workforce Development. “A revolving door exists between the juvenile justice system and the youth’s communities which are illequipped to educate, support, and employ them, a fact illustrated by juvenile recidivism rates as high as 80 percent in some states and youth unemployment rates over triple the adult rate. rates for youth of color, those with low educational attainment, and/or those with disabilities are even higher.”

IEL will award its funding to four sub-grantees through its Right Turn program, which is expected to serve 800 youth, ages 14 – 24: at least 720 court-involved youth (with no adult convictions) and up to 80 in-school youth with no criminal records who are at-risk of dropping out.

Programs, like IEL’s, will also be expected to offer services such as help in sealing juvenile records and providing opportunities to handle delinquency complaints outside of the juvenile justice system. “One mistake by a youth should not take away the chance for them to rehabilitate, train and get back on good footing for a lifetime,” Muñoz said.

For more information about these programs, visit: REO/.