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Agencies combine to help offenders get back on feet

On the second Wednesday of each month, the mobile career center of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission makes a stop at the Rome office of the Department of Community Supervision at 100 Marable Way. There, DCS officials join with representatives of the Georgia Department of Labor in Rome and Northwest Georgia Regional Commission to help probationers, parolees and participants in the Georgia-Prisoner Reentry Initiative with things like resume development, computer job search, and enrollment in Employ Georgia — GDOL’s new job-search information system.

Recipients of the service are working to reintegrate into the community. “Basically, those with definite obstacles to employment are invited to use the center,” said John Stoicoff Georgia Prisoner Reentry Initiative community coordinator for the Rome area.

Tyler Bailey, Rome, was among those working with the employment aides last week. He is hoping to find a job in manufacturing. He has been out of work for about a year. “I’m hoping they’re going to be able to help me get my life back on track to where it needs to be,” Bailey said.

The Ga-PRI is a part of the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative that is seeking to save prison beds in Georgia for the most serious offenders. It is designed to help less serious violators become contributing members of the communities they call home. The state believes the program can save taxpayers more than $260 million by reducing the prison population by nearly 5,000 over five years.

In fact, the state is banking on the savings to help finance the $17 million it is investing in accountability courts, additional residential substance abuse programs and the prisoner reentry program. Offenders are able to meet with employment specialists from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Terri Morgan, a program assistant for the Work Source Georgia program administered through the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission office in Rome, said in the past it was a lot more challenging to help offenders with their job search. “Nowadays we’re actually getting some buy-in. I actually know a few employers who like to hire folks from the PRI,” Morgan said. “They know they are interested in working and they’re loyal employees.

There is a stigma of course, but I think it’s much easier now.”

Morgan said the Prisoner Reentry Initiative is particularly good because the Department of Corrections and its partners start working with inmates well in advance of their release date.

“That’s the group that has been deemed at most risk to re-offend and most in need of services,” Stoicoff said. “In the past it’s always been a probation or parole problem, but it’s a community problem and it takes a community effort to resolve it. The support we’ve had here has been great.”

Stoicoff said the big mobile career bus has seen close to 60 people over the first three months of the program. Probationers and parolees come to the Department of Community Supervision office for classes, or simply to report in, and then check into the bus and get help toward finding a job.

Julie Turner, with the Georgia Department of Labor in Rome, said she believes the program has been pretty successful based on very early results. “We’ve had a lot of really positive feedback, a lot of individuals that initially made contact with us in the mobile lab seeking additional programs and services,” Turner said. “Every time we’ve assisted them with this (mobile career center) the numbers have doubled each time.”

She said it’s a little difficult to track results this early on, but added that several individuals had come back to offer feedback.

Shannon Knight, Coosa, was able to get some help with her resume during the session last Wednesday. She has been unemployed since April. “I’m looking for an office job, or a quality control type of position,” Knight said. She worked for a major tax preparation company for 10 years and has three years of quality-inspection experience as well.

Knight said she was able to get the help she needed for her resume and did actually have a lead or two that she was planning to take the resume directly to after completing her day-reporting requirement.

Phyllis Walker, assistant director of the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act program at the Northwest Georgia Region­al Commission, said the mobile career center is “an invaluable tool that we got through the Georgia Department of Economic Development.” She said that over 1,200 people came through the center during fiscal 2017 which ended June 30. “It gets used regularly,” Walker said.