A Long Island City organization, dedicated to giving formerly incarcerated individuals a second chance, received some extra help from the United States Department of Labor.
The Fortune Society, an LIC-based social service and advocacy organization supporting the successful re-entry of those previously in prison, received $1,212,000 in grant money to further help those re-acclimating to life outside.
“A strong support network is the key for formerly incarcerated individuals to successfully transition back to their communities,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.
The government agency announced countrywide grants totaling $20,518,598 to 18 non-profits, including The Fortune Society.
“A grant like this is huge for us,” said Glenn Martin, Vice President of development and public affairs at The Fortune Society. “It means we can help hundreds more looking for jobs.”
This grant will allow The Fortune Society to work with individuals before they are released, establishing relationships while they are still in prison.
According to Martin, 66 percent of people leaving prisons throughout the United States return within three years and 42 percent of criminals in New York are sent back to prison within three years. In New York, 25,000 leave state prison yearly, with half returning to New York City.
“We always say that people with a criminal record are at the back of the line when seeking employment,” said Martin. “Because of the economy, the line got much longer. Our folks have to be more competitive. This grant allows us to make them more competitive.”
Eighty three percent of those rearrested while on probation or parole are unemployed.
“There is a big correlation between staying out of trouble and employment,” said Martin.
Martin discussed the huge stigma attached to being involved in the criminal justice system, adding that many parolees are banned from getting jobs and licenses.
“We want to get to a point where were not just tough on crime but smart on crime,” said Martin.
The push will focus on job training for 200 individuals from the south Bronx and upper Manhattan, ages 18 and older who are within three months of being released from prison or have been out for up to six months. The Fortune Society is partnering with several organizations for this initiative – Restaurant Opportunities Center New York (ROCNY), a group that provides support to restaurant workers displaced from the World Trade Center after 9/11; Career Gear, an organization that provides clothing and career advice to men entering the labor force; and MFY Legal Services, a collective that ensures the protection of an ex-con’s legal rights.
According to a spokesperson from the United States Department of Labor, participating individuals must be enrolled within 180 days of being released from prison or a half-way house. The grant’s performance period will span 27 months and become available as early as July 1 of this year.