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First Lady Wolf Discusses Importance of Employment and Finances for Women Reentrants

First Lady Frances Wolf hosted Women In Reentry: Employment, the fourth in a series of virtual conversations with reentry advocates. The panel discussed why employment and financial literacy are vital for women following incarceration. They also highlighted resources available to women seeking job and financial help, and how being a fair chance employer benefits businesses and communities.

Panelists included:

“Securing employment and understanding budgeting, banking and credit are foundational for a woman trying to get her life on track,” said First Lady Wolf. “When we present women with opportunities to achieve meaningful employment upon their return home, we reduce the likelihood that they’ll reoffend. This increases their chances to build their lives back, perhaps even stronger than before.”

The PA DOC offers nearly 30 vocational programs with nationally accredited certifications within its State Correctional Institutions (SCIs) that train inmates for employment after their release. Almost half of the programs are provided in the two women’s facilities – SCIs Muncy and Cambridge Springs – including, but not limited to, carpentry, CDL, construction, cosmetology, flagger, fiber optics, and restaurant trades.

“Employment is a key factor to successful reentry,” said Hamarlund. “Reentrants bring a great source of talent to any employer willing to give them an opportunity.”

Hamarlund serves as a liaison between the PA DOC and employers. She helps ensure reentrants are receiving the training they need to obtain employment post release and educates businesses on the benefits of becoming fair chance employers, like the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and Federal Bonding programs.

“All employees want to feel connected and valued and as business leaders our jobs are to support, grow, and retain our people,” said Strobel. “As a Fair Chance employer, Flagger Force is continuing to embrace this concept by recognizing a demographic which may not have previously known of the opportunities we offer.”

Strobel has worked with Flagger Force since 2012, recruiting and retaining employees and managing workforce development programs. Flagger Force encourages second chance hiring, noting a strong commitment and less turnover from reentrants, as well as providing them with the opportunity to positively contribute to the community and economy.

“Criminal records do not have to be lifelong barriers preventing successful reentry and work in society,” said Senator Bartolotta. “The best strategy to reduce recidivism is to ensure those who have earned their second chance have the available resources to overcome barriers and biases.”

Senator Bartolotta also serves as co-chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Criminal Justice Reform Caucus and has sponsored numerous bills that improve outcomes for justice-impacted women.

“It is critical that we consider the impact the justice system has had on women,” said Golden. “For too long their issues have gone unheard. At Mural Arts we have been working in prisons and with people coming home for almost 20 years. Through this work we were able to see, firsthand, how women’s issues were different and actually more complex than issues facing men. In April of 2020 we were thrilled to be able to begin a women’s reentry program that offers a wide range of programs, from mediation to social services, to building job skills, to the arts. Seeing the women flourish in an atmosphere of love and support is inspiring!”

Mural Arts Philadelphia is reimagining reentry and restorative justice through their new Women’s Reentry Pilot Program. Part of their Restorative Justice department’s Guild program, this pilot is a paid apprenticeship that gives justice-impacted young adults the opportunity to develop marketable job skills and reconnect with their community. Program participants are guided by artists and other skilled professionals to transform their neighborhoods and themselves through creative projects. Job readiness is also an essential element of the curriculum, as Guild participants develop communications skills, teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, digital etiquette, and essential job entry skills like résumé-building and interview preparation to help them secure future employment.

Becky MacDicken emphasized the importance of financial literacy for women leaving prison and how the Department of Banking and Securities is addressing this need.

“Money plays a role in everything we do: housing, transportation, and employment choices, to name a few,” she said. “The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities has been partnering with Corrections for the last five years to empower women leaving our correctional facilities to make better money choices. We focus on the importance of being banked to their success as well as healthy credit practices to achieve and maintain financial stability.”

Launched in 2020 by the DoBS, Investing in Women is an initiative designed to provide essential education and research on components of banking, credit, saving and investing, while offering practical resources to women to navigate their finances and future.

Additionally, DOC, DoBS and the PA Credit Union Foundation created Successful Reentry in 2017, an innovative program that includes in-person seminars, webinars, closed circuit television presentations, and more in SCIs and at the PA Financial Reality Fairs for reentrants.

Governor Wolf and his Administration have taken other actions to remove employment barriers for reentrants, including:

  • Removing questions about criminal histories from state employment applications. “Banning the box” allows applicants with criminal records to be judged on their skills and qualifications and not solely on their criminal history, while preserving the appropriate evaluation during the hiring process.
  • Enacting Clean Slate law, which allows individuals to petition the courts for their records to be sealed if a person has been free from conviction for 10 years for an offense that resulted in a year or more in prison and has paid all court-ordered financial debts
  • Signing SB 637, which removed outdated licensing barriers so skilled workers with criminal records can get a second chance and start good careers.

The next Women in Reentry roundtable is scheduled for Wednesday, January 5.

The conversation can be viewed on the One Lens Facebook page or PAcast.