In Their Own Words - Participants' Voices - RMO Reentry Course

on Tuesday - February 24, 2015.

This is the first of a series of articles in which people in various RMO programs will share their perspectives and experiences.

First up, reflections from a few of the women who graduated from a recent RMO Reentry Course at Lancaster County Prison:

* "Taking this 6 day class helped me out alot. It showed me that I do have a chance in life. That I can still do things with my life. And it also gave me a different outlook on the outside. I really think that this program changed me, gave me strength to keep going forward, and can't wait to move forward and work with the program on the outside." - Jasmine

* "I feel that this class is very informative and basically helps teach us about Lancaster County's resources so that I can use them as tools to help myself when I do get out of prison. I feel that it helps remind us that we aren't alone. Sometimes I think that some of the presenters aren't aware of how hard it is to get the ball rolling and finding support, that we need somebody to personally hold us accountable for our actions and stipulations to even begin being somewhat successful." - Melissa

* "This course has really gave me a different outlook on my release. It has answered all my questions on what to do. Thank you, so so helpful!!. Gave me some hope to change my life. I enjoyed this program and hope to keep up with the RMO program on the other side of these walls." - Tessa

The RMO Reentry Course is a 12-hour pre-release reentry and life skills course for men and women incarcerated at Lancaster County Prison. This course is for people with a criminal record who have encountered barriers to success and want to learn skills and get information on resources that can help them become productive citizens and remain crime free. The instructors are subject matter experts from RMO partner agencies with extensive experience serving people being released from prison to overcome the barriers associated with a criminal background.

Participants receive a workbook that includes individual transition planning and goal setting worksheets with questions based on motivational interviewing principles.

This course consists of six two-hour sessions, covering the following topics:

- Community and Legal Resources: covers all programs, agencies and resources listed on the Self Sufficiency Reference Guide that we have created in partnership with United Way of Lancaster County. Participants will receive a free copy of the Guide.

- Housing, Transportation and Managing Your Money: this session explains the connections between where one lives, where they work, transportation options and one's financial situation all fit together. The session covers basic information about finding housing, what landlords expect, transportation options, and basic money management skills.

- Family Responsibility and Parenting, and Getting Along With Yourself and Others: This session covers the characteristics of strong families, information on how incarceration impacts families and children, and tips for reconnecting with family and children after release from prison or jail. It also covers tips for establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, resolving conflicts peacefully and creating a network of positive support people.

- Health Care and Mental Health: This session covers the basics of taking care of your physical and mental health, including diet, exercise, basic medical care, managing stress and managing anger.

- Addiction, Relapse Prevention and Wellness: This session helps participants to understand the roots of drug and alcohol addiction, addiction warning signs, relapse triggers, relapse prevention, and the basic building blocks of physical, emotional, and social wellness.

The course and workbook also include information and connections to the Reentry Employment Program and services at PA CareerLink of Lancaster Co.

Graduates receive a certificate from the Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO) that becomes part of their file at LCP. Copies of the certificate can also be given to the graduate's parole officer, sentencing judge and others, at the graduate's request.

The RMO started this program in partnership with LCP in 2011, and now has over 150 graduates.

Eliminating Barriers-Part 2

on Tuesday - February 03, 2015.

Here's more from the "One Strike and You're Out" report from The Center for American Progress which highlights several key statistics:

  • 70 - 100 million Americans now have a criminal record (nearly 1 in 3 people)
  • mass incarceration and the collateral consequences of a criminal record are tightly linked to the poverty rate in the US; one study estimated that the US poverty rate would have dropped by 20% in the last two decades of the 20th century if it weren't for these impacts
  • the costs of mass incarceration to the American economy have been estimated in a variety of ways, including a negative impact on the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of up to $65 Billion annually due to "the cost of employment losses among people with criminal records"
  • America spends over $80 Billion per year on mass incarceration - and these are funds that are then NOT available for things like education, healthcare, infrastructure and other resources that could contribute to a better quality of life in communities

The report includes this quote from the "My Brother's Keeper Task Force":

"We should implement reforms to promote successful reentry, including encouraging hiring practices, such as “Ban the Box,” which give[s] applicants a fair chance and allows employers the opportunity to judge individual job candidates on their merits as they reenter the workforce."

Among its many recommendations, the report outlines several ideas for "fair chance" hiring practices:

1) Remove questions about an applicant's criminal record from job applications (commonly known as "Ban the box") and only do a background check once the employer is seriously considering hiring the job applicant

2) Completely eliminate and even prohibit questions about arrests that didn't result in a criminal conviction

3) Let jobseekers review and verify the accuracy of any information about them that comes up on a background check

4) Provide opportunities for jobseekers to share information about the positive efforts they have made to improve themselves

 

Eliminating Barriers-Part 1

on Saturday - January 31, 2015.

Eliminating Barriers-Part 1

A new report from The Center for American Progress, titled "One Strike and You're Out" indicates that as many as one in three Americans now has a criminal record, and these criminal records result in a wide range of collateral consequences that limit employment, access to housing, parental rights, voting rights, access to public benefits and a variety of other restrictions and limitations.  

According to the report, "Today, a criminal record serves as both a direct cause and consequence of poverty." (Vallas and Dietrich, December 2014, p. 1)  The report also points out that for many people, their criminal record is for minor offenses or for an arrest for which they were never convicted. Yet, even when the details of someone's criminal record are clearly not for serious or violent offenses, the collateral consequences of that record can impact a person's life in myriad ways, often for many years or even decades after the offense occurred.

Says the report, "The lifelong consequences of having a criminal record - and the stigma that accompanies one - stand in stark contrast to research on 'redemption' that documents that once an individual with a prior nonviolent conviction has stayed crime free for three to four years, that person's risk of recidivism is no different from the risk of arrest for the general population. Put differently, people are treated as criminals long after they pose any significant risk of committing further crimes - making it difficult for many to move on with their lies and achieve basic economic security, let alone have a shot at upward mobility." (Vallas and Dietrich, December 2014, p. 2) 

The Center's report maps out clear strategies and recommendations for employers, education providers, local government agencies and others to take action to address these collateral consequences to "ensure that a criminal record does not consign an individual to a  life of poverty."

Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of articles on the recommendations mapped out in this report.

The Center for American Progress is "a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just, and free America that ensures opportunity for all."

RMO Intensive Client Progress - B's Story

on Wednesday - December 31, 2014.

B. is a 21 year-old female, who had been doing drugs since she was 16, had multiple retail thefts on her record and several incarcerations. She was homeless, had a learning disability, anger issues, little work experience (only in low-paying food service jobs) and no family support. (her parents live on the West Coast)

She started in the RMO Intensive program in December, 2013. Thanks to collaborative efforts between RMO partner agencies like Tabor Services, PA CareerLink of Lancaster County, Wellness Counseling Associates and Lancaster County Adult Probation and Parole, B. was able to get the resources and services she needed to quickly stablize and start moving forward. Through the RMO, B was placed in transitional housing, and her assigned RMO case manager helped her make a list of goals she wanted to achieve. The client really knuckled down and started working hard toward those goals.

Within her first month in the program, she was matched with a mentor, completed the initial set of required workshops in the Reentry Employment Program at CareerLink, completed an anger management class and was attending D&A counseling regularly. She earned her Ready2Work certification at CareerLink, and soon afterward, she was placed into not just one, but TWO jobs.

She started saving money toward moving into permanent housing, and met her requirements with probation and parole - staying clean, passing drug tests, and attending all of her appointments.

After less than 6 months in the RMO Intensive program, she moved into permanent housing, and was compliant with all probation/parole requirements.

She was in touch with her RMO case manager as well as her PO recently to report that she is continuing to do well, has a good job, and plans to start classes at YTI in January.

Extraordinary women, extraordinary opportunities

on Friday - November 21, 2014.

"This course showed me that I do have a chance in life - that I can still do things with my life. And it also gave me a different outlook on the outside - this program changed me - gave me strength to keep going forward." ~ Jasmine

This morning at Lancaster County Prison, ten extraordinary women graduated from the RMO's Reentry Course - the comprehensive life skills program that we've been running at LCP since 2011.

These ten women - Brittany, Mary, Jasmine, Melissa, Shea, Sue, Tessa, Heather, Atiya, Tracey – are gutsy, determined, and wise. They demonstrated initiative, persistence and gut-wrenching honesty throughout the program. They deserve a chance at a better future.

But they're also incredibly vulnerable and face staggering hurdles to that "better future." All ten of them have children who were left behind when the women went to prison. All of them have been in and out of prison multiple times. Most of them struggle with addictions. Most of them experienced significant trauma when they were children: abuse, neglect, poverty, hunger . . . And seven of them have nowhere to live when they get released from Lancaster County Prison. All of them will be released within the next couple of months - in the dead of winter.

The RMO can help them - but only if we have funds to provide the safe housing, case management, treatment and other services these women, and many other inmates like them, will need when they are released.

Will you consider making a donation to the RMO through the "DONATE" link on our home page? 

Your support can make a world of difference to help Brittany, Mary, Jasmine, Melissa, Shea, Sue, Tessa, Heather, Atiya, Tracey and others to make a new life outside of prison for themselves and their children.

Thank you for considering a donation to help the RMO to continue to work with people the rest of society has thrown away and forgotten.