Earlier this year, the Boone County Economic Development Commission (BCEDC) partnered with members of the Boone County Community Corrections and Probation, the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, Unite Indy, Aspire Indiana and Boone County employers to create the Second Chance Coalition. This coalition serves justice-involved individuals while meeting the workforce needs of the county’s employers.
In addition to providing opportunities for employment education for both employers and those who are currently involved with Boone County Corrections and Probation, the coalition is providing soft-skills training programs to better prepare these individuals for the workforce in hopes of stopping of the cycle of unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and reincarceration.
First Steps to Breaking a Cycle
The Executive Director at BCEDC, Molly Whitehead, explained that as part of the BCEDC’s 5-year strategic plan, the coalition is addressing the many barriers to employment that the second-chance population faces in Boone County.
The coalition has developed a five-session program that focuses on resuming writing, financial literacy and workplace environment skills.
“One of the key components of that [strategic] plan is to develop programming for underserved populations,” Whitehead said. “We started with the lowest hanging fruit —the second-chance population —and this matters to all of us [in the county], because from an employer’s perspective, this population is part of their potential or current workforce. And when somebody is involved with the justice system, that is a cost that we all incur. It costs money to operate the jail system and the courts and things like that. At the end of the day, I think it’s the right thing to do to help people who have been involved in the criminal justice system to get back on the right path and support them so that they can become a productive member of society.”
Whitehead added, “We at BCEDC — and I’m sure the sheriff’s department and the county as a whole — would love to see that cycle broken. To serve as many people as possible, that requires a really big partnership and a really big effort as a community to solve some of these issues. We’re talking about people that made some bad decisions and took the wrong path, but now they are going through corrections and probation and are trying to do what the rest of us are doing — trying to support their families.”
Three Core Areas of Focus
The Second Chance Coalition has three core areas of focus that it is currently working on.
Whitehead explained, “The first area that we’re taking a look at is from the public safety standpoint, and we’re coming at this from a workforce perspective but from within the public safety network. We are looking at what sort of opportunities exist — what do we have and what do we want that would better prepare people while they are incarcerated?”
According to Whitehead, people who have been involved in the justice system have a 27 percent unemployment rate.
“We know that there’s a big population out there that is willing and able to work, but from the employers’ perspective, how many of our employers in Boone County actively seek out and hire people who have a record? What we have found in our initial look into this is that a lot of our employers do hire but may not advertise it, in which case, we can help with that and help people [with records] seeking employment know where to apply so that they don’t waste their tine and can go work for employers that are trained and knowledgeable in this topic.”
The coalition’s third focus is on training for the workers.
“We’re looking at it from the workers’ standpoint,” Whitehead said. “What sort of training do they want and need? We started the course we’re calling ‘Maximizing your Potential,’ and that is a partnership between BCEDC and Boone County Corrections and Probation. This is a county-funded program. It is set up as a volunteer cohort, and the students have to sign a commitment letter stating that they are going to participate and show up every single time.”
The courses that have been developed focus on more than just interviewing skills and resume writing. They also focus on financial literacy, empathy and other social skills so that the person can gain confidence and acclimate more quickly and successfully in a workplace environment.
Moving Forward, Not Wayward
Member of the Second Chance Coalition and Quality and Compliance Coordinator/Case Manager for Boone County Corrections Katie DeVries shared her thoughts on the coalition’s mission and her role as a case manager.
“We are working to serve people in our community who are serving an executed sentence: my clients,” DeVries shared. “They could be in prison, but they qualified to complete their sentences in the community in an ankle bracelet, so they’re monitored 24/7. From my experience, they just don’t have the support system, and they don’t have members in the community that they can go to for help. I think the more we educate and train people, the better it will be. We all have to work together and communicate to achieve a common goal, and the [education] part of this is a big part of moving forward, in my opinion.”
DeVries continued, “Part of our job in community corrections and probation is to mentor and guide these people. Our first responsibility is to uphold the court order. They broke the law, and there’s a consequence. But at the end of the day, in addition to passing drug screens and showing up to pay their fees, we need to teach them skills that will help them accomplish their goals. Everybody has potential. We just have to be taught that we have it and how to use it.”