“What skills do offenders need to return to society and not reoffend”? That’s the question that Lt. Rebecca Baird of the Duffield Regional Jail (DRJ), Scott County Commonwealth’s Attorney Andy Johnson, and other local partners are finding answers to. The end goal of the partners is to ensure community safety by having former offenders enter employment and exit the justice system.
Regional Adult & Career Education (RACE1) has partnered with the regional jail since 2005 to offer GED classes to inmates with 232 GEDs earned in the facility to date. Recently the program expanded its focus to include workforce instruction in computer literacy, financial skills and work ethics, adding certifications that can lead to local jobs, and prioritized working with inmates who are nearing their release date.
SCOTT Service, the alternative sentencing program started by the Scott County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office in 2019, has also partnered with RACE 1 since last fall to include workforce instruction and certifications in their program requirements for participants. This program monitors low level offenders, those with little to no criminal history, and gives them the opportunity to gain valuable work skills while remaining in their community and participating in daily community service projects and educational activities offered through various community partners.
“One of our largest community resources is RACE 1” says SCOTT Service Director Jessica Keith. “RACE 1 has partnered with us from inception and has provided our participants numerous educational and work relational certificates as well as hands on work-related training and GED classes. We encourage each of our participants to obtain and maintain at least part-time employment and we work diligently to identify employment opportunities. Our participants are also required to seek and attend substance abuse counseling, therapies, and mental health support through Frontier Health along with random drug screens and continual monitoring through District 18 Probation and Parole to aid in their success during and beyond their time spent in the program. These services combine to allow an exponential increase in a participant’s chance for success well beyond the program.”
Preparing offenders for workforce reentry provides the necessary tools for a successful entry into employment and an exit from the justice system. RACE 1 incorporates local professionals from the Appalachian Community Action and Development Agency (AppCAA), Virginia Employment Commission and the Southwest Virginia Works providers in both the DRJ and SCOTT Service workforce readiness classes.
Lt. Baird with the DRJ says that the partnership with RACE 1 is designed for inmates returning to society who will face release within 6 months or less. Through the rigorous 14 week program, participants commit to meeting for 5.5 hours per day, 3 days a week. RACE 1 provides all necessary materials with instruction in basic skills, financial literacy, work ethics, and GED preparation with certificates in OSHA Safety, work essentials, money management, and digital literacy. Students create a resume, complete job applications and can work toward the completion of the GED with testing offered in the facility. Inmates also have the opportunity to take an intensive career aptitude and abilities test, which helps them explore jobs that match their interests and build upon their growing skills. Lt. Baird praised the partnership, saying it also helped put participants in touch with important outside resources such as the AppCAA and WIOA providers to assist with the transition back to a productive life.
Participants at the DRJ cohort are chosen based on the ability to meet specific criteria. The curriculum includes an innovative family read aloud activity to help participants stay connected with their young children and a Moral Reconation Therapy (mental health) component. During the graduation ceremony for the first cohort at the end of 2019, Judge John Kilgore presented six reentry graduates with their binders with certificates earned – a total of 77 credentials and certificates that will show future employers the job and life skills that each participant possesses as a result of the class.
SCOTT Service Director Keith notes that the partnership with RACE 1 allows participants to gain real-life skills. “RACE 1 provides our participants with a six-week cohort rotation where they have the opportunity to gain valuable educational and work related certifications through online and hands-on training platforms to enhance their skills. At the end of the course, our participants come away with multiple certifications to present to a potential employer. We see this as a vital component to their success in the workforce.”
SCOTT Service is designed to bridge the gap between incarceration and probation and provides structured services, such as the RACE 1 classes, to participants. Students in the SCOTT Service classes receive the same classroom components and certificates as those in the regional jail, including basic skills, financial literacy, computer literacy, and work ethics. Additionally, SCOTT Serves students can take the National Career Readiness Certificate, helping them compete for jobs while helping local communities document the regional workforce. Since September SCOTT Service has enrolled seventeen students in the class, with 54 certifications earned so far.
Jan Stallard, RACE 1 Workforce Reentry Instructor with the SCOTT Service class, noted “These classes are a joy! The students are hard working, dedicated, eager to learn, and ready to get on with life. We all enjoy those moments when the first certificates are earned, when resumes come together and participants see their accomplishments on paper, perhaps for the first time or when a coveted National Career Readiness Certificate is awarded after successful completion of the rigorous WorkKeys test. Priceless!”
RACE 1 also offers free adult education classes to the general public. A service of Lee, Scott, Wise, and Norton Public Schools, free GED testing and employability skills are available to adults over 18 at twelve daytime and evening classes. To find out more about the classes offered and locations near you, call 1-844-MyRace1 or visit their website at www.myrace1.org.