Ready for Success - Street Ready Initiative
By Adrian A. Arriaga, Texas Board of Criminal Justice Board Member
|Adrian A. Arriaga
Providing offenders with the tools necessary to secure stable employment upon their release is a key component to their success as productive citizens. Research has found the faster an offender secures employment after release, the less likely he or she will return to an old lifestyle, thereby decreasing the likelihood of returning to prison.
Addressing this concept, Project RIO (Reintegration of Offenders) began a two-city pilot project in 1985 aimed at reducing recidivism by helping offenders seek secure employment following their release. Since that time, Project RIO has expanded to cover over 81 facilities in Texas, serving 35,512 participants as of August 2005.
In addition to providing educational and career counseling, as well as job placement assistance through the Texas Workforce Commission, Project RIO staff help offenders gather important documents, such as a certified birth certificate, military papers, Social Security card, driver’s license and educational certification(s) necessary for the employment process. Since its onset, the Windham School District has also been working with Project RIO, assisting offenders in GED preparation, teaching vocational skills, life and cognitive skills, as well as teaching them how to fill out applications and handle job interviews. Through this training and assistance, Project RIO participants have the resources they need to begin searching for employment upon their release.
Robin Schurichtz is a perfect example of how having the right tools accessible upon release can be beneficial to an offender. While incarcerated at the Gatesville Unit, Schurichtz participated in Project RIO, earning an associate’s degree in applied science and completing an Information Center Specialist Vocational Program. She also earned On the Job Training (OJT) certifications for accounting clerk, computer operator, general ledger bookkeeping and quality assurance monitoring, and worked as an SSI Clerk in the Garment Factory. When released in February 2003, Schurichtz was given her birth certificate and Social Security card, which were obtained while she was incarcerated. With these documents and her OJT certifications, Schurichtz was able to meet with the Texas Workforce Center almost immediately to being her job search efforts. On March 10, 2003, Schurichtz interviewed with a private company and was hired as their payroll clerk the next day. She received a promotion as their office manager in October 2004.
When asked about her experience, Schurichtz said, “Project Rio was a benefit to me as it helped me obtain the training and experience I needed to work in a different field than the one I was in before incarcerated. I was also able to go to work immediately due to having the needed documents when I was released.”
As a safe guard system to ensure offenders are ready to “hit the streets” with everything they need to begin their job search process, the Street Ready Initiative was created. A cooperative endeavor, the initiative ensures essential paperwork is provided to the offender at the time of their release. With documents in hand, the job search process can begin immediately, making the transition from prison to the job world as smooth as possible.
The basic concept of the Street Ready Initiative originated in November 2004 when Institutional Parole Officers (IPOs) began assisting non-Project RIO offenders in obtaining their Social Security cards. The IPOs ordered the cards, which were then forwarded to the Huntsville Placement and Release Unit for delivery to the offender when released. This concept expanded in early 2005 to include State Jail offenders who were participating in Project RIO. This group became the first to receive their documents right at the time of release.
The Street Ready Initiative officially began six months later, in May 2005, when the Parole Division allocated four positions to its Huntsville Placement and Release Unit specifically to provide offenders with their essential employment documents at the time of release. Procedures were established wherein Project RIO staff collect the required documents and then forward them to the Placement and Release Office for disposition. Through the initiative’s efforts, the majority of the offenders who have participated in Project RIO and are being released in Huntsville or Gatesville can now receive their employment packets through the Placement and Release Office. For those offenders released from state jails or treatment units, the Classification offices at their respective releasing units provide their employment documents.
Today, the Street Ready Initiative continues to look for additional ways to improve offender reentry. It is currently working towards strengthening the agency’s coordination with the Texas Department of Public Safety on driver license and identification card issuance. It is also striving to ensure that offender release orientations provide additional information regarding supervision conditions and the resources available to offenders in the communities where they will reside.
Working together with the common goal of changing offender lives in a positive way, the Correctional Institutions Division, the Parole Division and the Windham School District will continue to work towards broadening the Street Ready Initiative to assist all offenders.
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