THE LONDER CENTER AND ITS PARTNERS
Like education, employment is a major issue for many offenders; finding a job that offers a stable, living wage is a tremendous challenge. Based on research that underscores the importance of offenders finding such jobs and because it considers educational attainment vital to offenders' obtaining employment, DCJ has used the Londer Center as a vehicle for including employment services in its community supervision program since 1995.
In collaboration with Worksystems, Inc. (the local Workforce Investment Board), the Londer Center has worked to link Portland's five parole/probation offices to its four One-Stop Centers. The goal of the partnership is for One-Stop staff to share information with parole and probation officers about employment services and for POs to share information with One-Stop staff about DCJ, resources available to offenders, and the specific challenges offenders face. The Londer Center also organized training for the One-Stop staff about the general conditions of offender supervision, office safety, the concepts behind cognitive restructuring, and the types of barriers faced by those with a criminal history when seeking employment.
The partnerships between the One-Stop Centers and parole/probation offices were formalized with a memorandum of understanding. A web-based referral process was developed so that offenders could be referred to any One-Stop, and an official partnership liaison was identified in each office. A summary of general partnership policies and procedures was created and distributed to staff in both systems. This document includes information on the principles underlying the partnerships, a summary of steps taken to support staff involvement and partnership success, a description of the roles of the liaison and the joint referral system, and a discussion of client confidentiality.
Costs associated with establishing these partnerships were shared between the Londer Center and Worksystems, Inc. It is important to note, however, that Londer has not contracted with the One-Stop Centers to provide employment services to offenders. Instead, they have worked to build the capacity of the One-Stop Center staff to serve those with criminal histories. One capacity-building technique Londer has used is a specialized job search curriculum, Jobs Now. Carole Scholl, the Center's lead instructor, developed the curriculum with significant help from Worksystems, Inc., the Oregon Employment Department, and the area's One-Stop Center staff. The Jobs Now curriculum focuses on overcoming employment barriers faced by offenders, such as explaining to a prospective employer why they have not worked in recent years. To view the curriculum, contained in the Jobs Now Participant's Workbook, return to the Partnership Profile Summary.
The curriculum, which uses cognitive behavioral change and motivational interviewing techniques to help offenders solve employment difficulties, consists of four modules that address overcoming barriers, job applications, job interviews, and resources. Over the course of the curriculum, offenders identify why it might be hard for them to find employment and articulate their concerns about looking for work. They also define their employment goals, set a timeline for meeting them, and develop some strategies for dealing with obstacles. They prepare for completing job applications and for interviews, including how to answer the difficult questions about their past. The resources module provides information about a variety of services and resources in the community.
The curriculum was intended for classroom use, but the Londer Center staff also are using it to inform One-Stop employment specialists of the special circumstances these clients face when looking for work. DCJ and Worksystems, Inc. jointly hold the copyright for Jobs Now.
Before the Londer Center developed strong partnerships with the One-Stop Centers, POs were not always correctly informed about the resources available at the One-Stop Centers, and employment specialists at the One-Stop Centers did not know how to serve offenders. As a result, offenders would arrive at One-Stop Centers with unrealistic expectations and find little to meet their specific needs. Because of the joint activities undertaken through these partnerships, POs are now better informed about resources for offenders available through the One-Stop Centers, and the employment specialists at the One-Stop Centers are better prepared to serve clients with criminal histories.
To solidify partnership support from staff in both the One-Stop and Community Justice systems, planners took several steps to encourage partnerships at the field level. For example, training, orientations, and site tours were made available to staff in both systems, enabling them to make more informed decisions when referring a client or managing a case. This also enabled field staff to develop the personal relationships seen by some as critical to the partnership's success. As one program manager put it, "You have to let go of the formal structure and let relationships do it."
The work of Yvette Allen, an employment specialist based in southeast Portland, illustrates the partnership's impact. Her area has such a high concentration of people with criminal histories that it is known as "Felony Flats." Before her organization began collaborating with the Londer Center, she had seen a lot of offenders, but she didn't know how to help them. Through the training provided by this partnership, she has developed expertise in assisting those with criminal histories. She has completed training to become an offender workforce development specialist and is now part of a team that provides reach-in services, employment services that are brought to correctional facilities.
TO TELL THE TRUTH?
When filling out a job application, what should someone with a criminal history do when he or she comes to questions about criminal convictions? Lie? Ignore the question? Offer to discuss it at a later date? Be truthful?
One-Stop Centers in Multnomah County surveyed local businesses to see how employers would want job applicants to handle their criminal history on an application. Employers responded that applicants should be candid about having a criminal record. They further suggested that offenders attach an addendum to their applications that very briefly explains the circumstances of their conviction and steps the applicant has taken to address the issues that led to it. They added that both explanations should heavily emphasize personal responsibility. One-Stop staff have found that clients often need help in developing this addendum, because many do not have the literacy skills necessary to create it by themselves.