Omaha – Since 2015, a grant administered by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) has funded prisoner reentry programs across the state of Nebraska to provide vocational and life skills training. To qualify for programming, participants must currently be inmates; under probation or parole supervision; or within 18 months of release. In the first grant cycle, 2,449 participants were served by Vocational and Life Skills (VLS) programs. In the first six months of the second grant cycle, which began in July 2016, 1,535 participants were served.
The Nebraska Center for Justice Research (NCJR), under the advisement of Director Ryan Spohn, Ph.D., signed on as a research partner in May 2015. Johanna Peterson, research coordinator, and Jordan Clark, data coordinator, work directly with NDCS and the VLS programs to track data on program participation. Participant surveys and interviews also provide additional insight into barriers and successes unique to participants. Through this work, NCJR provides feedback on what aspects of programming appear most beneficial to program participants. Over time, this evaluation will indicate whether or not participants return to prison at a lower rate than those who did not participate and if those participants are able to gain and maintain employment in the community.
Eight programs received funding in the second grant cycle. NLS programming is offered at all ten correctional facilities in the state and many more participants are served in area communities. Program services vary widely including specific job training, community college courses, and residential facilities, and offer peer-support and case management throughout programming. Many of the staff of the programs can uniquely relate to participants as they were also involved in the correctional system at some point.. This personal connection to the participants’ reentry challenges can increase hope within participants and show that they can succeed and become a productive member of society.
The word is getting out. Local news stories have highlighted the work of many of the grantees. Short videos explaining the services offered by each program play on televisions inside correctional facilities. There is a demand for programming. Just nine months into the two-year grant cycle, many programs have reached their participant service goal for the entire grant cycle. Some programs have waitlists of people eager to participate. Grantees work closely with one another to close gaps in services and work with community members to find employers and landlords willing to hire and rent to participants. The future of VLS programming is bright and NCJR staff are excited to work with programs and staff dedicated to offering people second chances and a path forward.
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