Inmates at a Missouri prison will be able to prepare for the workforce prior to their release, thanks to an in-house training program.
The Re-Entry Center at Tipton Correctional Center, the first of its kind in Missouri, opened Wednesday. The center will connect inmates with potential employers and provide a variety of educational resources. The Missouri Department of Corrections plans to open three additional re-entry centers in other prisons across the state next year, as part of an effort to break the cycle of reincarceration.
“These people are talented and smart,” said DOC re-entry coordinator Shelle Jacobs. “They just need a second chance.”
Organizers chose Tipton as a prototype site because it’s a minimum-security institution that releases more people every year compared to other prisons.
Missouri has the eighth-highest incarceration rate in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. More than 19,000 people are released from Missouri prisons each year — but nearly half will return to prison within five years.
It can be challenging to get back on your feet after spending years behind bars, Jacobs said.
“When they get out, they’re overwhelmed by the many things they have to get done. Affordable housing is often very hard for these folks to find, and even if they do have a safe place to live, oftentimes transportation is difficult,” she said.
Jacobs helped spearhead the Tipton Re-Entry Center after noticing that many formerly incarcerated people were facing similar challenges when they tried to get a job. Many were missing their identification or weren’t sure how to put together a resume.
“I had the employee and the employer, both willing, but there was a disconnect in the middle,” she said. “We knew we had to start addressing some of those things pre-release.”
Tipton inmates will be able to take advantage of job and educational services beginning one year prior to their release. The Re-Entry Center is partnering with the State Technical College of Missouri and State Fair Community College to offer classes in advanced manufacturing and computer basics.
The idea, said organizer Kristina Broadway, is to help inmates build their skill set and ultimately, make their case to employers.
“We want them to be able to walk in there very confidently and say, ‘This is my education, and these are the jobs I've done,’” said Broadway, a transition coordinator with the Central Workforce Development Board.
A number of organizations will also be available several days per month at the center, including the Family Support Division, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development.
Because these partner organizations will staff the center, said Jacobs, the cost to the DOC will be minimal. The department received federal funding through a Perkins Grant to cover the costs of renovating the office space and purchasing computers.
For Broadway, the program is a much-needed step toward reducing recidivism — and giving former inmates the tools to be successful.
“They want to rebuild their lives,” she said. “If they have everything they need, they don’t have a reason to go back to prison.”
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