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St. Francis Students Help Prisoners 

07-02-2016 12:39

Imagine walking into a prison and having doors electronically closed and locked behind you two to three times. This September, students from the Graduate School of Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations of St. Francis College in Loretto, Pennsylvania understood first-hand the feeling of being behind bars. In conjunction with their sponsoring chapter, HRMA of Blair County, they participated in an outreach project called Workforce 2000 at the Federal Correction Facility in Loretto. The institution is a moderate security prison which houses about 1200 inmates.

The facility designed a program in cooperation with the Federal Corrections Board that assists inmates who are about to be released to prepare themselves to reenter the workforce. Employers from surrounding areas were asked to volunteer their time for a day to do mock interviews with the inmates to help increase their chances of finding employment, thus reducing the risk that they will commit further crimes. Each inmate had volunteered to participate in an eight-week training course on resume preparation and interviewing.

The career services director at the college, the director of the student chapter, and masters degree students all volunteered to participate in the day long event. For those who had never been inside a prison, the experience was sobering, though in retrospect the security was reassuring. For example, volunteers had to carry their ID's with them to ensure their release at the end of the day.

The prison provided sample questions to each interviewer and instructed them to use any interviewing methods a person might expect to encounter when looking for a job. More importantly they were told to ask and be tough about getting a response to the question of why the inmate was convicted and incarcerated. Time was allotted at the end of the interview to provide feedback to the inmates on how they presented themselves. An evaluation form was also left with each participant to provide information and guidance for the future. The experience was rewarding for all who participated. At the end of the day a recognition ceremony was held in which each inmate received a diploma. Then a representative from the DOL shared information on possible tax credits available to employers for hiring and maintaining a reformed inmate.

The inmates expressed their genuine appreciation for all the time that was given to help prepare them to reenter the workforce successfully. Statistics show that seven out of ten inmates will return to prison upon release. However similar programs at correctional institutions across the country are making progress towards lowering this number. Student participants now understand the need for various outreach programs and why these programs are vital for people attempting to begin a new life. The experience was rewarding and the volunteers felt good knowing that they had made a difference in the lives of the inmates.

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