Program Helps Prisoners Re-Enter Society

A program aimed at helping ex-cons and juvenile offenders re-enter society is drawing positive reviews from both offenders and the people running the outreach. As HOuston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the Ready-4-Work program gives prisoners a better chance of succeeding out from behind bars.

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The program is a demonstration project sponsored by Public/Private Ventures, a national organization whose mission to improve the effectiveness of social policies. There are two Ready-4-Work programs here in Houston, one for juvenile offenders and the other designed for adults. Pandy Hardeway is the executive director of the Juvenile-4-Work program.

"I think a huge percentage of children and adults don't make it because they do very well when they're confined and removed from the community. But when they come back is when you go from a situation of having a tremendous degree of support to no support at all. What we're seeing is that kids learn, I have a place, I have people to trust, it's okay to change my lifestyle."

"If I wasn't in this program and didn't have a job, I would have to have some way of making money and I would have probably gone back to my old ways."

Michael Ruiz is enrolled in the Ready-4-Work program after spending time in juvenile lock-up for selling drugs at his high school. He now has a job at a fast food restaurant and is staying out of trouble.

"They helped me with family problems, anger management, community service, whatever. Whatever I need, I can just call them and any one of the people who work there will help me."

Courtney Grant was locked-up for threatening his principal, but now has a job at Ready-4-Work answering phones.

"They helped me get a job. They helped me with my family situation, my school situation, whatever help you need, they'll come help you when you need it. I'm going to get my GED and I'm going to go to barber college."

Adults get similar assistance as they make the transition from prison to free society, where often they have trouble getting jobs because of their criminal records. Ruby Woodward-Herman is the program coordinator for Moving Forward, the adult Ready-4-Work program in Houston. She says helping ex-cons adjust to real life makes sense.

"Not only just helping the individuals coming back to the community, but just think about it. If they're working, they're not victimizing. When you build a person up they have self-esteem and they want to contribute to society. It's a win-win situation for the people who were formally incarcerated and for the community also."

Renata Cobbs-Fletcher is vice president for public policy at Public/Private Ventures and says the Ready-4-Work program breaks down barriers.

"There are lots of regulatory barriers that are facing people coming out around the types of licenses that they're allowed to get to be able to work that often are not related to the types of offenses that they've gone in for. So just lots and lots of barriers, many of which we feel we've really broken-down, specifically around employers and their willingness to hire people with criminal backgrounds."

You can find out more about the Ready-4-Work prisoner re-entry programs here in Houston through links on our website, KUHF.org.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...