Webinar presenter Robert Barnett answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Real Re-entry, Real Impact, Real Money: Building Futures with the OCCD Construction Program. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: You said construction jobs don’t care about your records or education. What are the minimum skills our re-entry clients you have? What can we prepare them for? Basic Math? What have you encountered?
Robert Barnett: It’s very interesting because I feel like for a while what fits for everything was education, education, and education meaning you have to go to college. What I learned from that is that there’s a big void in all vocational areas. So I would say particular to people that have records, you need specialized skill, it doesn’t have to be construction. With the college I know, on the college that we work with, they’re currently doing programs that install power lines, there are masonry programs, there are carpentry programs. You just need to have in the Pacific but there isn’t something like carpentry and right now the college you can take a nine-week course to ensure carpentry certification and that starts from this area, seventeen or eighteen dollars an hour. I would say that as amazing to me because we have concerns that we hire employer degrees and it starts under that. So in regard to what they’re going to do just pick a vocational area, a vocational field. I have really good data that shows actually state to state what is in need on that state because it’s not the same on every state but any of those things that they’re in demand in your area. And if they are from our research background, they don’t really care so much about your education which often meets both of the hard parts for an inmate if you can push them towards that and if you can bring that into your jail. Even probation we’ve met with a county that wanted to actually bring this into the probation department. As part of your probation, they would make your time less if you completed this. And it’s one of those things we ask, why would somebody pay all this money for someone to do this but the point is you’re helping the community and we ask that you’re spitting 2800 dollars, however, it costs more than that to have for one year just because (indiscernible 49:05). I hope I answered the question, I’m not really sure.
Audience Question: Are there any types of crimes that someone would’ve committed that might prohibit them from participating in the program?
Robert Barnett: Let me say this in our first four or five classes and it wasn’t a rule that we made that we did not allow sex offenders in the program and our reason behind that was we didn’t have any community partners, any construction companies that were background tolerant towards that. So we weren’t being mean but the way that we look at that is, I don’t want you to spend all the time in this class, get excited, get this, get that and I cannot get you a job because of your background. So we actually had one in particular inmate. Must have been 80 or 90 requests. We keep telling him, no. The day before one of our classes started, we found that the company that would hire him; this guy was a sex offender and not the nice kind. He had a pretty nasty past. He spent nineteen years in prison. That basically was his entire lives. He came to us for not reporting he didn’t report because he was homeless. But wow, he went from 13 to 15 to 17 dollars an hour with about sixty hours a week of overtime all in 6-7 months. We have learned so far that there aren’t any charges. It’s interesting when the construction companies come in and talk to the guys, we always ask them and the first thing that they could tell the inmates while wearing their company shirt is, we don’t care about your background. The only thing that they do ask and we had a few students do this incorrectly is when you go to these places, they do have to run your background. So when you go to the construction company, when you go to the company you have to be honest. You have to realize that they don’t care. If you put on what you’ve done, they will run it. They will hire you. I would say from experience there aren’t any charges that will hold them against getting hired.
Audience Question: Patricia says, “I am from Louisiana and served on a state task force for incarcerated women. One of the areas is gender equality and programming. What were your challenges with co-ed classes and how were they resolved?”
Robert Barnett: The challenges I would say came from the males. Meaning when you have a class with two or three females and you have guys that haven’t seen females for certain amounts of time, it was childish stuff, it’s attempting to wink at somebody as they walk by. It is attempting to send a note to a female. But there are other challenges that come with that. I would say there are also challenges from staff. There are many people that were totally against it and I understand why. It has been an important and sensitive topic and a lot of things can quickly elevate too. So if you’re an officer overseeing and I understand that but you know that stuff becomes with it. When they are at a bay and building a nine hundred square foot house. We can’t have it where girls build here guys build there because it’s not how it is on the real world. That’s not how it is on the offsite. I will say you’ll have challenges on people wanting to separate them and put the girls on their own corner and the guys on their own corner but the only way to make it really work is put them all together. You’ve got a lot of guys with domestic past that needs to learn how to communicate with women. It’s hot out there it’s often a day’s a hundred and ten degrees if something goes wrong. You’ve also got to learn how to work your way through conflict. I would say honestly from a perspective of that is you’ll get challenged often comes from the guys.
Audience Question: What is the minimum age for jobs with power tools? Have you seen this work with juvenile populations?
Robert Barnett: We at our facility only deal with adults. We do have I think about fifteen juveniles but the ones that we do are being charged as adults. They’re for a very serious crime. We’ll put anybody in at any ages if it matches up right but by any means, you have to be eighteen. Backing it up to that, the research we’ve done, the place we’ve gone I will say that in the state of Florida what we did here this goes back to women, not juveniles. What we did here, starting a probationary program for women only but specifically for tools and juveniles I don’t know. With any juveniles that I have or had, I would want to, maybe because of their age, push them more towards education and maybe we’d work out that way.
Audience Question: Is the primary concern of the program teaching them the trade? Or is it there a focus on life skills, anger management, parenting, and addiction recovery.
Robert Barnett: It kind of goes like to the beginning that if you have a drug program and you’re in the jail and you fix that but they don’t have employment, what do you do? They’re no longer a drug addict but they’re broke so they go back to being a drug addict. We did not do this at the beginning but we learned when we needed to do it, we incorporate every case. So they have to have a minimum of 200 hours received from different construction certification. So in class Monday to Thursday, they’re doing certainly construction. However, on Friday, they’re doing about four hours of thinking for a change. They’re doing victim impact. They’re doing cognitive behavioral therapy. Our guys that have drug issues. When they come to us, they’ve already come from the drug program. We don’t really say or think that money fixes everything however I will say that if you don’t have money, all of the other problems seem to kind of grow. So, I guess you’ll learn that if you combine if you could help somebody with their income and help them with their housing and you include you know, be a better person by doing a project that helps other people and you tie in cognitive behavioral therapy and you do mock-interviews and you just talk about living a different life. I think it works but you have to do it all. You have to include every single piece. If the class did not work as well when we just (56:07 indiscernible) things are so much more successful when we added on the other pieces.
Audience Question: How did you establish the funding to create a program, staff positions, and supplies?
Robert Barnett: One of the ways that the program came about was that we have a really big project here called the I Swore (?) project that actually is so large that it took a joint-venture of three different construction companies. I believe in that they have some small meeting with the college letting them know that they were kind of missing this piece. They didn’t have the workforce; they didn’t have this and that. From there it all started to really. A lot of the tools when we started were donated from some of the local construction companies because they actually had that in hand. And then the funding came from you know, we knew that we have extra money and the welfare fund. So you know we kind of know what to do with it. There’s money there and there’s a lot of options to do with it. What can we do that will make the biggest impact? In terms of staff, what we did was we actually had one officer assigned to two different shifts so one shift on weekend and we have the other ones come on to the assigned program. From my understanding, the funding was just re-allocated. It goes back to a commitment from the administration. You don’t just need the money. You have to have your administration. If you’re inmate programs you have to have money pulled over from the security part because you have to fund an officer because without an officer the class will not work. So you got to have all three parts of it. But yeah, they hold the money over to fund that. The class itself came from the welfare fund and a lot of the tools initially were donated from construction companies. I can say right now we’re actually in the process of trying to implement a masonry program and we’ve already heard of numerous organizations saying, “Oh, we will donate this and that just to get you going. We’re surprised by it. It’s neat once the community learned about what you’re doing and different people that are willing to help you.
Audience Question: Once the program got started, did word of it get out to other inmates who were not participating and what was their reaction?
Robert Barnett: It did. That brings me to just an awesome story passing this talking about other inmates. Yes, it got out to them. I would say most programs if you have a GB (?) program (indiscernible 59:14). Now we don’t recruit at all for the construction programs. We get requests. We choose who are qualified and they go from there but the inmate that I would show you the picture in him and the picture of his baby. We actually found out from him recently. He actually was not in jail when he found out about the program. He was on the streets and at the time had an active warrant. He found out from one of his friends that were released from jail. I guess the new program was about to start and so what he did told us is he intentionally turned himself in because he knew the class that was about to start. He got sent in within a few weeks and got enough time for the program. So now we, you know the communication from inmates inside the jail and communications from inmates that were released so in other people in the community that were actually turning themselves in to come to jails and take the class.