It is not disputable that individuals released from custody have tremendous problems getting traction in the labor market, particularly in today’s challenging economic environment. Even beyond the resistance employers may have to hiring a person with a criminal record or who has spent time in prison, individuals who have spent time in custody may lack both concrete skills and any experience in managing a regular job in a structured workplace. Yet, it is also not disputable that steady employment is one of the best ways to avoid recidivism, as well as a positive source of purpose and meaning.
With this understanding, CAL has developed its first-of-a-kind “Better Days” program. Its goal is to hire one client or former client annually, for a one year position, to help with administrative tasks such as scanning and mail room support. With their bona fides established through their work with us, it is the hope that they will be able to move forward and secure more permanent employment after their time with us. Our social worker will be working with them throughout their year with us to assist with resume preparation and job counseling, as well as real-life issues such as budgeting and negotiating the workplace.
Our Better Days program is now a reality, thanks in large part to the generosity of a philanthropic donor who immediately recognized the vision and potential of our idea, and provided us with a grant to help fund it. With that assistance, CAL was able to offer employment to a former client in January 2014. He is now a part of the CAL family, learning valuable skills that he can take with him in the future.
Equally exciting, Better Days is spreading. Inspired by CAL, and again with the financial help of our donor, three other organizations — Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, and Immigrant Defense Project — are instituting their own Better Days programs. It is our hope that this is just the beginning.