Orange is the New… Job Training Program?

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The conversation about prison and its prisoners has changed for the better in recent years. Since everyone’s favorite Netflix show Orange is the New Black premiered back in 2013, the public temperature towards prisoners has warmed ever so slightly. The show introduced themes to a new audience about what life in prison is like and how hard it can be for inmates struggling to return to society when their time is up.

Of course, real life in prison isn’t quite as bubbly or melodramatic as the show can often be. Anyone who tells you that OITNB is an accurate portrayal of prison life is wrong. It’s more like Oz, and even then, still not totally accurate.

Nobody is this 'chummy' in prison. (Image)

Photo: Netflix

But what OITNB did right is inspire its audience to be curious about life in prison. The result of that was more conversation, more sympathy, and more desire to take action and reform our less-than-impressive prison system, particularly the issue of what happens when an inmate is released back into society. What are they going to do? How are they going to stay away from crime? Will they be able to get a job?

Unfortunately, for a ridiculously high number of ex-convicts, they have nowhere to go, are unable to find employment, and often return to a life of crime. It’s difficult for an ex-con, considering that a vast majority of employers won’t hire them simply because of a prior convict.

If we as a nation believe that prison’s intention is to take society’s ill members and reform them, shouldn’t we give them that chance? If they’ve served their time, they’ve earned their right to return to society with the rest of us. But since that isn’t exactly the case, what solutions are there?

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy recently announced that the American Job Center will partner with New Haven Correctional Center to begin a new jobs program, the first of its kind.

The goal of this 18-month project is to serve 175 New Haven prisoners and help them ease back into society by teaching them how to apply and interview for jobs, and referring them to available jobs.

The project would work in tandem with a City Hall program called Project Fresh Start, which was recently awarded $1 million to work with inmates in their remaining 12 months to begin lining up employment opportunities, housing, or work to address and solve any substance abuse problems before they leave prison.

The $1 million was just one of six grants awarded to invest in prisoner reintegration. The other grants were:

  • $99,060 to the Department of Correction (DOC).
  • $258,113 to Yale researcher Emily Wang to “explore the interrelatedness of correctional systems and community health care.”
  • $366,881 to Families in Crisis, Inc. to work with the kids of incarcerated parents.
  • $420,000 to Family ReEntry Inc. to “ensure that the transition young fathers make from secure confinement facilities back to their families and communities is successful.”
  • $190,000 to the state Office of Policy and Management for a plan focusing on juveniles under community supervision.

All of this is imperative if we want to truly rehabilitate inmates back into society. If the ‘justice’ in criminal justice means anything to us, it doesn’t just end at incarceration. Ethically, if we believe in our criminal justice system, that also means we believe that reintegration is just as worthy of investment as the prison system itself.

We’re failing our fellow members of society, our neighbors, our friends, our families, if we simply throw them in jail and expect them to get themselves out. More often than not, they don’t properly reintegrate. Employers outside of the service industry have a bias towards ex-convicts, and financial professionals don’t trust them either. In theory, why would you? But on paper, they’ve served their time, so why wouldn’t you give them a second chance?

Once society slaps a legal label on you, you’re screwed. That’s unfortunately how things work nowadays. But it’s refreshing to see lawmakers in Connecticut taking steps to make reintegration something that will benefit society, rather than “reward criminals” as opponents will point out. This is something we need to invest in, not just financially, but emotionally and ethically. Our nation’s inmates have fallen, and it’s our responsibility as a community to lift them up and give them another shot. It’s the right thing to do.

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