Towards Employment staff participated in Making a Clear Pathway: Transitioning for Successful Reentry organized by the Literacy Cooperative in conjunction with Cuyahoga Community College, Seeds of Literacy, Cuyahoga County Public Library and Towards Employment. The event helped adult literacy providers develop a stronger understanding of the reentry ecosystem to better support students who have criminal records or are transitioning out of jail or prison. Senator Sandra Williams was a keynote speaker.
Many individuals seeking adult literacy services have interacted with the criminal justice system. Nationally, 75% of state prison inmates did not complete high school. In Ohio, 35% of inmates have not finished high school at the time of arrest according to a 2015 ODRC study, but in Cuyahoga County 42% of inmates do not have a HS diploma or GED at the time of arrest. Research shows inmates who are educated are 43% less likely to return to prison.
Over 60 people attended this half-day event. Panelists included Towards Employment reentry staff, and other organizations that provide critical services in our community, including: Oriana House, Aspire Greater Cleveland-CCPL, Recovery Resources, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Euclid Jail, Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Aspire Tri-C, EDWINS, and Seeds of Literacy. Crystal Bryant, Director of the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry and Mike Davis, the Chief of ODRC-Reentry Services also provided insight.
Laurie Atkins, event coordinator: “Adult educators often work with individuals currently or recently involved in the justice system and want to connect them to services and opportunities that remove barriers and lead to gainful employment. The panels of experts assembled for this event provided much insight into available services as well as the processes and hurdles that many endured during the reentry process. It was also enlightening to know that Senator Williams is a champion for this population and is working hard to remove some of the barriers they face upon reentry.” Providers and leaders work every day to ensure individuals returning from prison have the tools they need to access services and remove barriers that prohibit successful reentry.
This event was especially relevant given a recent provision in this past year’s budget bill (Summer 2017), called the Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison (T-CAP) which will target individuals with Felony 5 offenses that are non-violent, non-sex, and do not require mandatory prison terms. The bill requires that these offenders will no longer be eligible to serve sentences of 12 months or less in ODRC facilities and will instead serve their time in their local communities. T-CAP seeks to ensure more people receive supervision and essential treatment in a more effective and less costly setting than prison by allowing low-level offenders to serve time and access resources in their home communities. However, this does mean more recently released individuals will return to Cuyahoga County. Currently, more than 20,000 prisoners are released annually by the state of Ohio and roughly 15 percent return to Cuyahoga County. This percentage will likely increase based on this recent legislation for Cuyahoga County.
It is more important than ever for those providing reentry services in our community to work together – including those who work inside prisons and those working in the community. Together, we can ensure services are available and delivered effectively so reentering society member are set up for success.
 ODRC 2014-15 Cuyahoga County Intake Profile: https://www.drc.ohio.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=XI0Nz4OiW7M%3d&portalid=0 Proliteracy: https://proliteracy.org/Resources/Adult-Literacy-Facts TCAP Info Sources: ODRC- https://www.ccao.org/userfiles/TCAP%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf & https://www.drc.ohio.gov/tcap https://news.vice.com/story/criminal-records-are-keeping-millions-of-men-out-of-the-workforce-and-its-hurting-the-economy (TE featured in this article)