Workforce News

Relationships and Trust Necessary for Community Reentry

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02 October 2023

Incorporating justice-impacted individuals into a community can be difficult for businesses, landlords, school leaders, and others. Those working in various Minnesota and Ramsey County correctional departments build relationships throughout the community to help these individuals transition into society while keeping general public safety at the forefront of their decisions.

“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.

He has worked for over 30 years with men and women on probation or parole. Today, he is specifically involved with those in supervised release programs who have finished two-thirds of their sentence or are on probation. His experience indicates that persons on all sides of this complex scenario face numerous barriers to integrating justice-impacted individuals into society. 

Balancing act

Offenders often face the perception that they are likely to repeat the crime that led to their original incarceration or commit new crimes in their new community. Parole agents and probation officers struggle with their desire to help these individuals find work and residential options while not losing sight of honoring victims' needs. The employers, landlords or school officials necessary for providing opportunities struggle with the potential risk of hiring someone with a justice-impacted background. But in the face of these struggles, one fact ties them together, said Elliott.

“Recidivism will increase for the formerly incarcerated who cannot find productive work or places to live,” he said. “Most people don’t understand that not providing these items increases the likelihood the individuals will be non-compliant with their probation or parole terms. We have to give them the resources to change that behavior.”

Relationships and trust

Developing relationships is a critical first step to providing solutions to those struggles. Probation and parole officers are consistently present in communities, seeking to build long-term relationships with landlords and business owners, creating an understanding that they will be present and visible with the justice-impacted individuals, helping to meet their basic needs.

These relationships require trust, specifically that the community’s safety will come first and foremost.

“We are always mindful of public safety while offering chances for community members to help formerly incarcerated persons turn their lives around for the better,” said Elliott. 

Cognitive behavior interventions have helped make this conversation different from the past. There needs to be less telling them what they need and more hearing what they need, which can be an incredibly eye-opening experience for all, said Elliott.

“We are good at telling people what to do, but that isn’t necessarily helpful in the long run. We have to ask about what life looked like when they were on the right track,” he said. “I have seen that approach lead to so many more persons having, for the first time in their lives, an apartment, health insurance, sobriety and more, and, as a result, so many more will not violate their probation.”

Those items go a long way toward providing mental stability in any person’s life. Focusing on those needs means paying more attention to the impact of mental health programming, considering its cost versus the cost of incarceration. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that in 2018, the cost of holding an adult in federal custody was $37,449 per year, while the average cost of an episodic psychiatric treatment in a community hospital was $3,616 to $8,509. Put differently, the cost of approximately one to three months in prison would provide the hospitalization necessary for episodic psychiatric treatment.

True Change

Ask any human resource manager, real estate agent or landlord; finding good people is an ongoing endeavor, regardless of demographic. The U.S. job market faced a total separations rate of 47.2% in 2021. The U.S. Census Bureau reports approximately 12%-15% of the population moves yearly. Thoughtful approaches are necessary to match these needs as more and more people are released from incarceration and seek a new beginning. While resources such as Community Corrections and other second chance service organizations are available to help promote successful reentry,  it takes all of the community to provide their support as well.

“For employers, landlords and others on the fence, I believe we can meet in the middle of providing public safety and providing opportunities,” said Elliott.  “Doing so can make true changes in the lives of justice-impacted individuals and our society as a whole.” 

Ramsey County Workforce Services has numerous programs aimed at helping employers find qualified workers, including justice-impacted individuals. 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.

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