On February 4th and 5th, nearly thirty workforce development professionals representing all six PA CareerLinks® in the South Central Workforce Investment Area attended a Reentry Employment Specialist (RES) Training offered by representatives of the PA Department of Corrections.

Hilary Thomas of SCPa Works coordinated this event for the region. “We recognized that Dauphin County is among those counties in the commonwealth with the highest rates of recidivism. We felt it imperative to bring staff from each of our CareerLinks together for this training in order to better serve these clients, help reduce recidivism and promote public safety.”

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The RES training curriculum was developed by the National Institute of Corrections and is implemented by workforce and criminal justice practitioners across the country. The training focused on how to improve employment outcomes for persons with criminal histories through strategies that include collaboration, assessment, job readiness and job development. In the RES model, the correctional clients are the pivot point, and practitioners (such as PA CareerLink® staff) and employers provide balance as they work to collaborate, communicate, and create opportunities for clients.

The primary presenters included Traci Jacobson, Unit Manager at the State Correctional Institute at Mahony; Robert Warren, Director of the Community Correction Center in Johnstown, and Janeen Christ, Reentry Administrator for the Western Region. Each presenter had held a variety of positions with the Department of Corrections and they tied in anecdotal evidence of years of experience working with residents as we worked through the curriculum.

There were other opportunities to share and learn built into the two day training. There was discussion with a panel that included representatives of several Harrisburg based organizations that serve persons reentering the community, as well as the Director of Pennsylvania Correctional Industries.

Trainees learned how Correctional Industries trains and prepares offenders for transition into private sector employment by offering programs in 20 institutions. Two of the presenters, who had themselves formerly been incarcerated, shared how their personal journeys had fueled their passion to help others.

Shirley Moore Smeal, Executive Deputy Secretary of the Department of Corrections, also made a presentation to the group and shared some eye-opening statistics regarding the prison population in Pennsylvania. Ms. Moore Smeal also discussed the need to be able to direct Corrections resources to community services such as pre-kindergarten enrollment in order to reduce the number of adults who end up being incarcerated.

Trainees also took advantage of the offer to tour the Community Correction Center just down the street from the PA CareerLink®, where about 175 men are living as they transition back into the community. The presenters had a lot to offer, but they also came away with a better understanding of the experience and knowledge of CareerLink staff, and the efforts already being made to serve this particular segment of our job seeker population.

Ms. Thomas concluded, “Feedback from training participants was very positive, and I think staff are ready to put some new skills and strategies into action.”