Ready4Work Tallahassee readies to accept clients
By Valerie D. White
Special to the Outlook
Ex-offenders have a resource to assist them with re-entry into society as the Bethel Ready4Work-Tallahassee Reentry Center began accepting clients on Monday at 428 W. Tennessee St., also known as the Bethel Veterans Center. This program is for non-violent, non-sex offenders who are 18 years or older, drug free, currently on probation or who have recently been released within two years from a Department of Corrections facility.
“We are extremely excited about providing job training, job placement and other support services to persons who deserve a second or even a third chance in life,” said Lucretia Shaw Collins, the program’s director. “The primary objective of the Bethel Reentry program is to provide job opportunities thereby reducing the likelihood of an offender committing another crime and returning to prison.
“Based on Department of Corrections statistics, nearly 50 percent of them will reoffend; however, the program we will introduce to this community—over time – will drastically reduce the recidivism rate ultimately creating a safer community and save millions of tax dollars,” Collins told the Bethel congregation.
She hopes in the next year that 50-75 ex-offenders will take advantage of the resources provided by the program. Clients will be given mental health and substance abuse services, skills and vocational training, GED preparation and training, family reunification assistance, professional job interview clothing, job placement assistance, bus passes to attend classes and lunch each day of training.
“There is a lot of talk about the need to reform the criminal justice system,” said the Rev. RB Holmes Jr., pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. “It is my vision to be an active participant to lead this needed transformation. Helping citizens get on their feet by having a job can be life changing.”
Support for the program, which will serve Leon, Gadsden, Jefferson and Wakulla counties, comes for the Florida Legislature, the Bethel church, the city of Tallahassee and business owners who will provide job placement.
The program has received $500,000 of non-recurring appropriations from the Florida Legislature, $125,000 from the city, and more than $35,000 from Bethel Baptist Church, during its 146th anniversary celebration last week.
The Bethel program is modeled after the award-winning Operation New Hope Ready4Work Re-entry program in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville program is a national model that has a proven record of success and has been recognized by former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and President Obama as a re-entry program that should be replicated throughout the country, Collins said.
A team from the Jacksonville program was in Tallahassee last week to make sure the Bethel program was in compliance and to certify they had accomplished their criteria.
The Tallahassee center will have job coaches and life coaches to track participants up to a year after leaving the program and entering work.
“We will not walk away from clients,” said Collins, a retired legislative staffer who rendered 38 years of service to the Florida Legislature. “Operation New Hope clients have a 70 percent job retention rate and the recidivism rate is 50 percent lower than the national average saving millions of dollars each year in the cost of incarceration. This is a data-driven, evidence-based program and it is that type of success that we anticipate having in the Tallahassee community.”
Keith Parker, a sociology and criminal justice professor at Florida A&M University, is on the Bethel Empowerment Board, which will oversee the project. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to get involved with a community program committed to getting ex-offenders to re-enter free society,” Parker said. “We have a responsibility to help anyone in need. We think we are ready to be of service to men and women coming back into surrounding counties to not go back into the Department of Corrections.”
According to program literature, the objectives of the program is to significantly reduce the prison recidivism rate in this community; provide hope and direction to inmates and ex-offenders to live a productive life; cultivate a safer community; strengthen, save and sustain families of inmates and ex-offenders; and save millions of tax dollars.
For more information, call 850-329-2418.