Ready4Work is an eight-week jail reentry program that teaches men who are at a high risk of recommitting crimes how to find employment and become successful community members.
The program starts by taking a group of 10-12 men from the Reentry Pod at the Kent County Jail, who might not have any previous work experience and have little chance of finding employment after they’re released, and teaching them the skills they need to be good employees. The men take classes once a week for eight weeks to work on filling out applications, making resumes and interviewing techniques, as well as understanding personality and organization skills and what things employers look for when hiring.
After release, they then spend two weeks with Hope Network to further develop specific skills so consultants can place the men in appropriate employment.
“If they’re ready, we will find them a job in competitive employment,” said Ron Stuursma, reentry consultant at Hope Network.
But if they’re not ready, the men are placed in a transitional job that pays minimum wage, and they continue training with Hope Network for 90 days to eventually be ready for a competitive position, he said.
The program started in January with an initial $100,000 grant from Rich and Helen DeVos and has expanded thanks to a recent $50,000 grant from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. Stuursma said the new money will be used to further research opening a similar program for women and to expand the program to help more men.
Part of the foundation’s grant will be used to continue working with the men up to six months after they first find employment. Stuursma said that sustained training should help the participants better their skills and ensure a close employer-employee relationship.
“These people are not chosen because they’re the easy, likely successful ones,” he said. “They’re chosen because they’re the highest risk people.”
Laurie Craft, program director at the Community Foundation, said the organization wanted to help a program that benefits the whole community.
“Individual sufficiency and having a job are important tools to prevent recidivism and to make our community safer,” Craft said. “I think this is an important reason for our grant. Research has shown that housing and employment are key components in preventing recidivism, reducing the incentive that an individual has to commit another crime.”
Hope Network works with employers that have had successfully implemented reentry programs, but Stuursma said the organization is looking for new companies to take on these workers.
“We’re looking for employers who have made it clear to us that they’re not just going to do this because it’s morally the right thing to do, even though it is,” Stuursma said. “But they’re running a business and need to make money, and so they want to make sure they’re just not brining problems onto their plant floors.”
He works with the men at the jail every Tuesday and said he’s seen a lot of positive responses. Most of the participants want to learn how to find proper employment, he said.
“The businesses that have gotten some of these people — and have hired these people — have told us that they feel they’re getting someone who is grateful for a second chance, (and) works very hard to prove themselves worthy,” Stuursma said. “And we have lots of stories of people that have worked hard, always showed up on time, gotten along well with their peers and have been very great employees.”
Keeping possible re-offenders off of the streets and helping them strengthen positive relationships are ways to keep the community safer, Stuursma said, because these men are being released into the community and have a decision to recommit crimes or to better themselves.
“The positive thing is that we have about 5,000 convicted felons that come back home to Grand Rapids every year, and if the community has the opportunity to chose, they would much rather have somebody who’s going to get a job, who’s going to be productive, who’s going to try to make amends with their family and try to rebuild some relationships, than have someone who’s a danger to the community and is going to cause problems,” Stuursma said. “All-in-all, it’s a tremendous advantage for the community to have the right kind of people and the right kind of attitudes for these guys when they come out.”