Workforce Program To Aid In Inmate Rehabilitation

The Offender Workforce Development Partnership Training Program is being offered to individuals who work with an inmate population. Applicants are being accepted until January 4. The program instructs participants how to help inmates become employable once they leave confinement. P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

With the hopes of reducing inmate recidivism, Chautauqua County is focusing on helping inmates get a job after incarceration. A program promoting inmate reentry into the community is being offered for individuals who deal with offenders in their occupation.

The Offender Workforce Development Partnership Training Program beginning in January and ending in May focuses on training individuals who work with inmates reentering the community with an emphasis on getting those inmates employable.

The program, described as a train-the-trainer effort, is being hosted at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

The three-week process will take place from Jan. 14-18, March 18-22 and again from May 13-16. Applicants are still being considered until Jan. 4. The program was discussed at a recent Community Justice Council meeting comprised of various agencies throughout the county seeking to address issues related to criminal justice.

Eligible applicants must work with an offender population in areas that might include employment, housing, education, vocational training, rehabilitation and transitional programs.

Patrick Johnson, lecturer at SUNY Fredonia and co-chair of CJC, said the program was previously offered through the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office when Johnson was a warden at the county jail, but the college has been hosting the program since 2016. The program was offered in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2016. Additionally, during 2016 and 2017, the program was provided to the Federal Correctional Institution in McKean, P.A. where inmates were given training as well.

Johnson said when he was warden he realized there was a need for the training and was approached by BOCES about the National Institute of Corrections in Colorado.

“You’d give (inmates being released) cards to call for (reentry) help,” Johnson said as to why he looked into the training program. “We’d find those cards in the parking lot.”

Johnson attended an event by the NIC in 2009 where he learned about the Offender Workforce Development Partnership Training Program. After an initial application was denied by the NIC for the training, a group of individuals from the county were accepted in 2009. The training they received allows individuals like Johnson to then instruct employees in the county through the training program.

Johnson said the training is being brought back to not only promote offender workforce training, but also to promote the county for the purpose of acquiring state grants.

A grant that is typically offered by the state every two years is being eyed by Johnson, SUNY Fredonia and the county with hopes of funding an inmate reentry taskforce. The taskforce would be dedicated to assisting former state prison inmates reenter the community in Chautauqua County. However, the grant would not provide funding for county-level inmates’ reentry and only focuses on state-level prison inmates’ reentry into the county.

Johnson noted that all parties involved are interested in applying for any grant that would provide assistance to county-level inmates in the future if that becomes available, too.

The goal is to have a designated taskforce addressing inmate reentry, at any level, into the county, Johnson said. In order to be eligible for the grant, the county would have to show related efforts like that of offering an offender reentry training program.

“Getting everything into place, either way, would be beneficial to the county,” Johnson said.

The training program, beginning in January, can be utilized by individuals dealing with inmates at the any level of incarceration. Johnson hopes to approve around 24 applicants for the training course. Currently, the plan is to house the program, at least for week one, at the SUNY Fredonia Technology Incubator in Dunkirk.

The training focuses on career development theories in week one which encompasses many other theories from theorists John Holland, Donald Super, Nancy Schlossberg and John Krumboltz. Each theory developed by the aforementioned theorists is taught to the participants in the training program with hopes of better understanding how to get former inmates a job. Those theories include, but are not limited to, aspects like identifying barriers to employment, using facilitation skills, transition intervention, job seeking and job retention skills.

Johnson said important factors for inmates getting a job outside of jail or prison is breaking down barriers to employment while they’re incarcerated and finding a career they’re actually suited for.

“We tell (inmates) to go get jobs, but if they don’t understand what type of career they want they’re not going to be successful,” Johnson said.

When Johnson was a warden at the county jail, he said he wanted more programs that would help inmates stay out of jail once they left. Now, Johnson is continuing that effort by promoting two programs attempting to do just that.