Overview: In an effort to connect inmates to employment, including supportive employment and employment services, Massachusetts was awarded a Department of Justice grant for the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) in which the Department of Correction was the lead agency. The SVORI grant required close coordination among corrections, state and local service agencies and the Workforce Investment Boards. The SVORI grant concluded on June 30, 2006.

To continue the momentum from the SVORI grant, the Department formed an internal Career Center Workgroup to improve the community linkages needed to assist offenders released from the Department in finding and maintaining gainful employment. The Career Center Workgroup was made up of representatives from several divisions and institutions throughout the Department, including Directors of Treatment, Program Services Division and Inmate Training and Education Division. The Department also invited representatives from the Division of Career Services and The Work Place (One Stop Career Center) to educate the group about services available at the One Stop Career Centers. This workgroup was tasked with creating short and long term goals for the Department.

In July 2006, the DOC was awarded the Prisoner Reentry Initiative (PRI) grant for a three year period which is designed to reduce recidivism by strengthening urban communities characterized by large numbers of returning nonviolent offenders. Those offenders are assisted by the Transition Facilitators who work with the target population to assess their current education functioning level; administering a vocational survey; providing structured classroom workshops to enhance employability skills; and transition services with the recipient of the corresponding Department of Labor grant program (SPAN, Inc.).

An informational booklet called "Employment Information for Ex-Offenders" was created by the Division of Career Services (DCS) in collaboration with the Department of Correction. The booklet is made available to inmates prior to release to assist them in preparing for the job search process. This booklet includes information on how to prepare for the job search and communicate with potential employers, benefits available to companies who hire ex-offenders including Tax Credits and Federal Bonding, as well as a template for a job application and resume.

The Inmate Training & Education Division completed a pilot apprenticeship project with the DOC's Prison Industries Program (MassCor) in conjunction with the Division of Workforce Development and the Division of Apprentice Training, to provide education and job training credits toward apprenticeships to increase the employability of released inmates in the areas of welding and sheet metal. MassCor has initiated a second apprenticeship program for the Optical Shop in Gardner, MA. In both of these programs, inmates earn apprentice hours for the time spent on curriculum and test results as well as on-the-job hours, resulting in better educated, more highly trained inmates.

The Reentry Workshop is a program offered to inmates within one year of their earliest possible release date. This recently expanded ten day program is delivered by Spectrum Health Systems, Inc. and designed to assist inmates in developing a comprehensive reentry plan. Topic areas include housing/living arrangements, employment, social support, crisis planning, and financial budgeting, among other areas. In September 2007, Reentry Workshop curriculum was enhanced to include a comprehensive Employability component. Specifically, a four-day lesson plan has been added to include the process of seeking, securing, and maintaining employment. Included in the revised Employability lesson plan module is the utilization of career interest surveys and job skills assessments. Further, exercises with sample job applications, resume writing, and mock job interviews has been integrated. Information on Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI), Employer Tax Credit programs, and the Federal Bonding Program, among other areas, are covered in the material and the inmate now develops an individual employment portfolio. The Employability lesson plan also incorporates the teaching and rehearsal of the soft skills necessary for one to interview well with potential employers as well as those needed to conduct oneself appropriately in the workplace.

In addition, the Women Offender Reentry Collaborative (WORC), administered by The Work Place (TWP) and funded under a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor is a One-Stop Career Center operated by the Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) in Boston. WORC is "a comprehensive, systematic approach to employment for women ex-offenders" who plan to return or have returned to the Boston area after release from prison. It provides a variety of paths to employment including job readiness and job placement services, skills training and education, ongoing case management, mentoring, social services supports and post-placement career advancement services. It was implemented at MCI Framingham and South Middlesex Correctional Center in 2007 and has been renewed for the current year.

Finally, the Department created an Offender Employment Workgroup in May 2007 to review the recent recommendations made by The Reentry Roundtable on Employment of Ex-Offenders published by the Crime and Justice Institute. The Workgroup is co-chaired by the Director of Reentry Services and the Director of Inmate Training and Education and is attended by managers from Department's Industries Program as well as the Program Services Division. This Workgroup has identified a work plan to address the need areas identified in the Reentry Roundtable report. This work plan includes developing performance measurements, increasing education and training to obtain a GED, ESL and computer skills, expanding the recently created Apprenticeship Program, implementing a process to register all inmates on JobQuest prior to release, educating employers about hiring ex-offenders and creating partnerships and linkages in the community. This group will continue to work towards the goal of preparing inmates to obtain gainful employment upon release to increase self- sufficiency and meet the needs of their community.