Breaking Down Barriers for Justice Impacted Individuals is a Workforce Solution
29 Nov 2023
Ramsey County Workforce Solutions series highlights the importance of helping residents land on their feet after incarceration.
A legal mistake or misstep on the path of life shouldn’t mean an individual cannot find redemption, contribute to society and build an economically sustainable foundation. That’s why Minnesota’s Ramsey County Workforce Solutions, with guidance from a community advisory team, seeks to help justice-impacted individuals get back on their feet, not only to alleviate the barriers they face once released from the criminal justice system but also to assist employers in meeting their hiring needs. In 2023, the department published a series of articles addressing the obstacles justice-impacted individuals encounter and the work necessary to integrate them into the workforce, with highlights listed below.
About one-fourth of incarcerated Minnesota individuals released each year return to prison with a new felony conviction within just three years of release. Art from the Inside, a nonprofit providing a voice for incarcerated artists, attempts to interrupt that cycle through education and awareness. One incarcerated artist, C.B., stated, “By giving the incarcerated artists a platform, we encourage redemption narratives and a public belief in second chances.”
“The artistic process creates a dialogue to figure out their source of pain and how to move forward,” said Antonio Espinosa, Art from the Inside founder and former corrections officer. “Seeing others appreciate their creations can build that essential sense of worth.”
A recent Ramsey County Community Corrections survey indicated the most common need of adults on probation is a better connection with resources in the community. Ujamaa Place’s Theory of Transformation™ centers on five main pillars – housing, employment, education, wellness and criminal justice advocacy. Since opening its doors in 2010, Ujamaa Place has provided support services to help men build positive lives and move into contributing roles in society.
“All the coaches have the same goal - to transform lives - and we recognize everything goes together,” said Ujamaa Place Employment Coach Nigel Sharper. “It's difficult to secure a place to live without a job, and it's tough to get a job if a person has some sort of dependency and that is true for each pillar, so we know we all have to work together to make things straight.”
Aldrick Woodruff is one example of an individual who has exhibited and cultivated the mental tenacity necessary to restore his place in the local community. Woodruff spent his time in prison at several facilities, including at a Lutheran Social Service halfway house in Minneapolis, which included a 90-day term with the Bridge Program at MINNCOR Industries in Roseville. The Bridge Program provides employment and work skills training to help participants successfully transition back into society.
“I took something from the community with my mistake,” said Woodruff. “I believe the right thing to do is give back to the community by stopping others from making similar mistakes and diverting them to a different place.” Woodruff developed the skills and found his place as a mentor to others while incarcerated and continues this work today in the community.
Second-chance hiring plays an important role in the safety and development of our communities. Research indicates access to meaningful employment is essential for reducing repeat criminal behavior, as cited in studies by Johns Hopkins Hospital, a Kelly Services and Toyota partnership and with U.S. military enlistees.
Employers seeking to alleviate their workforce issues can make a fair business investment by intentionally adding justice-impacted individuals to their potential employee pool. These persons are eager for a second chance to prove they are not a wrong choice and are ready to contribute and move forward with their lives. Ramsey County Workforce Solutions implores business owners and leaders to reach out today to see how they can be intentional in hiring justice-impacted individuals.
In the movie, “Shawshank Redemption,” Morgan Freeman plays a character named Ellis Boyd Redding, a career criminal whose life behind bars is more comfortable and gratifying than his freedom. Unfortunately, this cycle frequently happens in real life, as formerly incarcerated individuals often engage in criminal behavior again because they cannot find opportunities to help them get back on their feet.
Justice-impacted individuals face many barriers to securing employment and adapting to life outside prison walls. In partnership with the Work Release Program, MINNCOR operates the “outside the walls'' Bridge Program to help work release participants successfully transition into society. The three-month program provides individuals with an introduction to jobs and work skills training to bridge the gap from corrections to employment outside a correctional facility.
Developing relationships is a critical first step for justice-impacted individuals to secure employment. Probation and parole officers are consistently present in communities, seeking to build long-term relationships with landlords and business owners while creating an understanding that they will be present and visible with the justice-impacted individuals. These relationships require trust, specifically that the community’s safety will come first and foremost.
“If we truly want to change the crime picture and reduce the number of victims, we cannot keep closing doors to the formerly incarcerated population,” said Mark Elliott, Probation Officer Supervisor in Ramsey County Community Corrections.
Wildflyer Coffee is a nonprofit coffee shop in Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Its Work & Life Skills Training Program is a four-month employment training program to cultivate the personal and professional skills youth aged 16-24 need to find and maintain stable employment and leave homelessness for good. About 20 percent of the youth Wildflyer works with are justice-impacted, but the homelessness issue goes well beyond that.
“We believe we can educate the community on what youth homelessness looks like in our area while working with young people as they develop their independence and work towards a more stable future,” said Wildflyer Coffee Program Manager Kenzie Diessner.
Contact us today to learn more about Fair Opportunities, the collaboration of Ramsey County and the Workforce Innovation Board of Ramsey County with information, resources and events to help employers better understand the value of hiring individuals impacted by the criminal justice system.