Crawford County Certified Work Ready Community
A one-of-a-kind program educating Crawford County Jail residents and preparing them to find gainful employment upon their release helped the county become a certified Work Ready Community.
Officials throughout Crawford County were present Wednesday at the jail to receive the certificate through the Department of Economic Development.
The program — Rehabilitation Through Innovation — was administered by Dr. Sean Siebert. Siebert and Crawford County Sheriff Darin Layman presented the idea to county commissioners in March 2017 and were given the green light. They were able to receive a grant through the Meramec Regional Planning Commission to
Siebert lauded the efforts of many throughout the county to make the program a success. Thirty-six jail residents were selected to participate and 30 completed the Work Keys Assessment, helping the county achieve becoming a Work Ready Community.
Layman was initially skeptical when he heard about the idea, but said he was grateful to take part in a “phenomenal program.”
“It was an unbelievable experience,” he said, calling it a life-changing experience for jail staff and residents alike.
“We interacted with them as human beings to help them better themselves,” Layman said. “It was an honor and a privilege.”
In early 2017, Crawford County was only one of four counties, including Dent, Phelps and Washington, that had not achieved becoming a Work Ready Community. Each county had to target emerging, current and transitioning workforces and have them pass the Work Keys Assessment.
For Crawford County, targeting the transitioning workforce was proving the most challenging. Those workers, Siebert said, were difficult to reach. MRPC Executive Director Bonnie Prigge said progress was being made, but they weren’t where they wanted to be.
Siebert said it was MRPC Project Development Manager Kelly Sink-Blair who threw out the possibility of reaching jail residents, but he wanted to take it one step further.
“What if instead of the Work Keys, we gave them hope?” he said. “Let’s get people back in the workforce.”
Siebert said they found individuals “at their lowest point” and had to figure out how to move them from Point A to Point B.
Not every inmate would be a good fit for the program, Siebert said. Lt. Zac Driskill of the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office circulated a flier among jail residents. Of the ones who were chosen, some had college experience and some had dropped out before reaching their freshman year of high school. Eighty percent didn’t have a diploma.
As he brainstormed ways to make the program a success, Siebert knew he needed a hook — an incentive to keep them engaged.
Love and compassion needed to be shown to get the residents to buy in.
“They’re at their lowest point in life. Me standing up here and having (the program) by itself isn’t going to make it work,” Siebert said.
He reached out to his friend Jimmy West from Frisco’s Grill & Pub. With permission from Layman, West provided participants with pizza during each program session. Siebert’s mother baked a batch of sugar cookies. On Easter Sunday, Siebert’s family cooked up a meal for the residents — ham, cheesy potatoes and dessert.
Siebert said providing food was “an act of generosity” and a sign of good faith.
“It had nothing to do with me,” he said. “It was all food.”
Some of the participants who passed the assessment became emotional as they stepped out of their pods to receive the certificate. Only one of the 36 didn’t try and Siebert said that person regretted it.
Four other participants had reading comprehension issues and another, Siebert said, had just been incarcerated, leaving them in an altered state of mind.
As the participants were taking the Work Keys assessment, Trish Rogers at the Missouri Job Center in Rolla was simultaneously registering them as job seekers in the state. Some of them had no idea such a resource existed. Siebert said he told participants their first stop upon release should be visiting the center.
“The first place you go — don’t go home, don’t go to your sister’s, your cousin’s, your nephew’s house. Go see Trish,” Siebert said. “If Trish is your first stop, we can get your utilities turned back on. Any excuse or crutch you had to be this person goes away if you see Trish at the Job Center.”
A Model For The State?
Rep. Jason Chipman, R-Steelville, addressed the crowd to congratulate everyone who participated on their hard work. Chipman said the legislature is moving Missouri away from locking inmates up and “throwing away the key.” A bill passed allowing misdemeanors to be expunged after three years and felonies not involving violent crimes wiped away after five years. Chipman said people need more help.
Chipman called Rehabilitation Through Innovation a program that can be exported to other parts of the state.