An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
TDCJ coordinates with Windham, TAB to prep offenders for post-release ‘second-chance’ jobs
Every year, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice releases more than 60,000 offenders to live as our neighbors in communities throughout the state. For many of these men and women, building a successful life in the freeworld means finding a good “second-chance” job. When a released offender finds gainful employment, their chances of returning to prison go down dramatically. Fortunately, Texas is enjoying a robust business climate, the jobless rate is low and skilled workers are highly sought after.
To help satisfy the demand for skilled workers, representatives from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), the Windham School District (WSD) and the Texas Association of Business (TAB) met in December at the Travis County State Jail to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) pledging commitment to a shared goal: teaching valuable job skills to offenders who are about to reenter society and building a network of second-chance employers where they can find work. Participating in the signing ceremony were TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier, WSD Superintendent Kristina Hartman and Jeff Moseley, chief executive officer of the Texas Association of Business/Texas Association of Business Foundation.
TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier explained how this collaborative effort helps fulfill the agency’s mission: “One of the most important, perhaps the most important way we achieve public safety is when someone gets out and doesn’t come back. That’s true public safety. That’s the public safety that’s long lasting. That happens many, many times, because of employment.”
Longstanding barriers to post-release employment have declined as effective in-prison education and job skills training, along with substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, have helped many thousands of released offenders rejoin society as honest, hardworking citizens. Director Collier described how attitudes toward post-release employment have changed, saying, “More and more offenders are finding jobs in the community every day, and more and more employers are willing to hire someone who’s been in prison. Those same employers are finding out that by giving them a chance they’re hiring people who are very good workers, who do an outstanding job and make their company stronger.”
Bob Cartwright, president and CEO of Intelligent Compensation and chairman of the TAB board of directors, shared his thoughts about the partnership: “I’m excited about this. This is one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of in quite a while and I think this is going to be a home run for Texas. It’s all about working together to create opportunity; unemployment is really low, and folks are looking for people to fill spots. If they can train folks up before they come out and if we can get the business community involved in making that work, this is going to be a very successful program.”
Windham School District Superintendent Kristina Hartman noted that offender employment programs are being measured by their success rate rather than the number of certificates and diplomas awarded: “We’re utilizing the robust training programs provided through the Windham School District for career and technical education and soft skills and aligning that with the needs of Texas employers. Our end goal has really shifted from number of certifications awarded to ‘Are we actually placing individuals in employment in the community where they can make a living wage and support themselves and their families?’”
Hartman commented on the advantages of alliance with the TAB: “Without the support of the business community and their support of these individuals for employment, we would not be as effective. We invite employers who are interested in our training program to contact us for a tour of the facilities. We are located at 90 institutions throughout the state of Texas, so we’ll be readily accessible to anyone who would like to come in and take a tour.”
Second-chance employer Mike Shelton, once an offender in TDCJ and now owner of Austin-area construction supplier TexTruss Incorporated, described his successful track record hiring offenders who had received job training while incarcerated, and encouraged other businesses to do the same: “The guys from TDCJ are an integral part of this society and they are great. I’ve got guys that have done 37 years and they’re my best employees. They’re willing to do anything you ask them to do. They just need a chance. Someone gave me a chance and it worked out real well for me. All employers need to do something to help these guys out.”
Shelton explained why it’s important for offenders to get a job as soon as possible after release: “We’d like to start reaching into the system to get people placed before they get out. The biggest problem is they get out, they meet their old friends and they fall back out. If they get out and get a job, they can take care of themselves and quit making bad decisions. That’s about it.”
Lee Kuhn, general manager with Tiger Sanitation, shared his perspective on second-chance hires: “It’s not about perfection but the pursuit of excellence. Some of the people with the clearest purpose in life have taken a tough walk in life. They have come through and really found themselves. They’re looking for that second chance and really want it, need it and have earned it. It’s not about where you’ve been, it’s about where you are and where you’re going.”
After the signing ceremony, Travis County State Jail Warden Ralph Marez and his staff escorted visitors on a short tour of the unit and some of its featured programs.
MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING
TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE
WINDHAM SCHOOL DISTRICT
TEXAS ASSOCIATION OF BUSINESS, TEXAS ASSOCIATION OF BUSINESS FOUNDATION
Employment is one of the most important factors associated with an incarcerated individual’s post-release success. Additionally, Texas business benefits from the availability of skilled workers.
WHEREAS, the mission of the TDCJ is to provide public safety, promote positive change in offender behavior, reintegrate offenders into society, and assist the victims of crime, and the mission of the WSD, in partnership with its stakeholders, is to provide quality educational opportunities, and the TDCJ and WSD have specific authority to accept gifts or grants from any public or private source for use in maintaining and improving correctional programming and services; and
WHEREAS, TAB and the Foundation are Texas’ leading employer organization. Representing companies from the largest multinational corporations to small businesses in nearly every community of our state, TAB and the Foundation works to improve the Texas business climate.
WHEREAS, TAB and the Foundation desires to be a partner in providing workforce development services to eligible incarcerated individuals within the TDCJ.
RESOLVED, this MOU establishes the commitment of signatory parties to the goal of preparing discharging qualified individuals for productive employment and facilitating reintegration into society with marketable skills to meet the needs of Texas business.