The price of freedom is responsibility, and it’s a tall order for thousands of parolees getting out of jail each month, trying to avoid going back down the same road that landed them there in the first place.
Training and jobs are the answer, but hard to come by.
“Most of the calls I get, they think we’re sitting here with a grab bag full of jobs
that we can throw out there,” said Jeff Boyd, New Start coordinator in the county of Riverside, Workforce Development. “There are people with masters and Ph.D's with six figures that are laid off.”
Boyd, who wrote the New Start program, tries to create the best possible solution to get parolees transitioned into society. Ignoring the problem only accelerates recidivism and costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Funded by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the program is in its first full year, but on hold for its extension under the long overdue state budget, he said.
“It saves the state a lot of money, I’ve been told they’re going to refund it,” he said. “We have a lot of people, the Department of Labor, interested in refunding this program.” Currently, he has about ten men at one master’s vocational school. Of his case load of about 80 men, more than ten have gained employment. He hasn’t had one person yet violated for re-offending of any kind, he said.
For guys coming in off the streets, he identifies skill level, helps set up a plan for their life, finds them housing. The program tries to get the men channeled into the best prospect for employment, such as renewable energy, solar panels, wind turbine, weatherization.
It also helps that those fields are doing serious background checks, which would take them out of the running. Still, he’s up front with the men that many businesses can’t hire them, and a lot of businesses that can hire them but won’t because there needs to be a rebuilding of trust.
He compares it to going from bad credit to good credit.
“The good credit is going through skill building classes, getting trained and certified, they may have to get on the job and work six months.”
At some point, they will become more marketable to employers. “You begin to build things on the positive side, each time you do something you get a reference letter,” he said.
Joe Hixon, director of his program, Reality Approach, partners with Boyd to provide housing and support services. Over the years, he’s worked at several group homes with hard to manage young men.
Part of the solution is changing the mindset of the prison mentality, he said.
His classes help break down barriers, where parolees learn to rewrite the rules that used to keep them surviving inside the prison, such as not looking anyone in the eye and keeping their mouth shut.
But out in the free world, they have to shake a hand, make eye contact, and they have a voice.
“The other biggest challenge we have is making society feel safe with parolees,” he said, adding that most men they deal with are low level drug use or nonviolent offenders. Even so, if and when they recidivate, it’s usually on a violent charge from the anger and frustration of being unable to make it in society.
He said there’s nothing out there to help them break the cycle.
Once parolees graduate from their classes, they’re placed in job training or in college, where they can begin to get some skills.
While in jail, their world stands still. They don’t quite “get” all the new technology.
That’s where he believes his program can help them back to the mainstream.
Contracted by the county of Riverside, Reality Approach addresses isolation barriers and anger management through two-hour initial and advanced classes over a 10-week period. There, parolees learn resume writing, typing, job training, and receive mentoring.
''You don’t want to just give someone a job if they’re not equipped; they really don’t have experience to handle it. They have to learn how to articulate and communicate,” he said. “A lot of people in prison are still using a beeper.”
For more information on parolee services, call Boyd at (951) 955.0171.