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« If I Felt Better, I Would REALLY Be Angry | Main | Thumbs up for Florida »

March 23, 2007

Second Chances, the Risky Business of Transformation

Ready4work Yesterday I went to a White House Compassion in Action round-table discussion on prisoner re-entry. It was so encouraging to hear about the good things happening across this country with other faith-based groups who are partnering to help meet the needs of returning prisoners.

One of the programs highlighted today was the Ready4Work Re-entry Initiative, funded and developed by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Employment and Training Administration (ETA), the U.S. Department of Justice, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. This 3-year pilot was created to link returning prisoners to organizations that can provide case management, mentoring, job training and placement.

The results, though still preliminary, show extremely encouraging signs of success. Of the 17 pilot sites, 11 focus on adult ex-offenders and 6 on juveniles. Basically, through job training, mentoring, and frequent personal check-ins, as well as the connection to the faith-based community, not only are these ex-offenders given an opportunity to surmount aggressive obstacles to successful re-entry, but also the employers who agree to take a chance on these men and women are given the much-needed insurance that there is a community surrounding these people who have a stake in their beating the revolving door.

A couple of years ago I got to spend a couple of days with one of our IFI graduates who was at that time working with a Ready4Work pilot program in Houston called Moving Forward.

David was one of the folks who did the hard leg-work of convincing employers to give these men and women a second chance, and to consider hiring men and women whose resumes were tainted with a criminal record. While all of us can easily think of reasons why employers would not want to take such a risk, talking with David helped me understand the hopelessness felt by people coming out of prison and the reason why we need to work hard to help, not hinder, the process of restoration in the lives of ex-offenders.

That's risky business. But the more I get to know God and my own sin, the more I'm reminded that He--if you'll pardon the expression--takes a risk on me daily. He is faithful, even when I am faithless. Its this kind of risky investment that has the power to turn a heart and a life around.

The Orlando Sentinel ran a superb article by Jim Leusner back in February on the Ready4work pilot program in Jacksonville, Florida called Operation New Hope. I encourage you to read it to get a better glimpse of what I'm talking about or watch the video to get a flesh-and-blood perspective. While the statistics--for instance, that only one in 20 of the participants is arrested again within the first year out of prison or jail--are encouraging, I myself am more moved by the personal stories of transformation and hope shared in the article and the video.

(Photo courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel)

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