Each year, approximately 10 million people in the United States return to their communities from jail or prison, including roughly 3,000 to the City of Boston. These former offenders continue to face challenges upon release, including finding housing, financial support and jobs because of their time in prison. These hardships can make re-entry extremely difficult, and often lead to re-offense.
NECAT is able to play a critical role in reducing recidivism in Boston, and providing much needed opportunity to these individuals, by providing culinary training and job placement within our city’s thriving hospitality sector.
Just a mere two blocks down the street from NECAT is the Suffolk County House of Corrections, where up to 1800 inmates are housed at any given time. For a number of these individuals, NECAT’s training program is something of a light at the end of a tunnel – a tangible goal and a solid plan for their re-entry process.
Our partnership with the prison allows us to go behind the walls to provide inmates with an overview of our program and the commitment required to graduate: 16 weeks of full-time training, an early start every morning, donning clean uniforms, building strong life and job readiness skills and a commitment to take on full-time employment upon graduation.
“I think I went to three of your sessions while I was in there,” says current student, Carl Clinton, who was released from a 13-month sentence in May. “I signed up for NECAT the moment I could.” Carl said he heard about NECAT’s program from a former inmate who went to work in the kitchen of a cruise ship after graduating NECAT. “I knew NECAT was what I wanted to do – especially with the job placement help. That’s a big thing. I have a plan and know that, with NECAT, I can move forward into a career, toward buying a house.”
The reentry students we serve face significant obstacles, with an average of 75% in recovery from substance abuse and 68% homeless or in transitional housing. As a result, this past year, NECAT invested in additional services to help this population be successful at NECAT and in their future employment, the most critical of which was building an internal case management team. Our case managers are streetworkers by trade and uniquely skilled at guiding returning citizens through their journeys by helping them overcome challenges and access supports and other community resources. We also continue to work with employers to help shift their hiring practices in order to offer high paying, career ladder positions to those with criminal records.
2019 marked an important year of growth for NECAT, in part because we received a grant from Commonwealth Corporation to improve workforce outcomes for individuals returning to their communities after incarceration. This grant was the impetus to expand our critical partnerships with the Suffolk County House of Corrections, Federal Probation, Boston’s Office of Returning Citizens and other referral and support organizations. We were honored to have Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins as our graduation speaker in May and appreciate being acknowledged as the Sheriff’s Department’s July “Partner of the Month”, which celebrates NECAT’s Student Service Director, Elise Brandwein, and the vital role she plays connecting our organizations. Click here to read the full article.
During his speech, Sheriff Tompkins did not shy away from addressing faults in our current justice system: “This country incarcerates more of its citizens than any other major industrial nation on the globe. Why would we want to do that? There’s no doubt about it. It’s a way of keeping people down.”
He went on to say, “I believe we need to deal more with rehabilitation than to be as punitive as we are. 70% of my inmate population suffers from some form of substance abuse. 42% suffer from mental illness from the most passive to the most aggressive. I think it’s like 32% of our female population is dual diagnosed – so they suffer from both mental health and substance abuse issues. And what do we do? We throw people away.”
“And then you have an organization like NECAT that comes along that says, we can do better, we must do better and we will do better. And the fact that there are people in here who have been away for a while, and who are graduating today, is fantastic. It’s awesome. But with that, the onus is on you men and women to carry that forward. To reach back and pull that next man or woman forward. We can’t just leave people behind…. Don’t forget that the onus is on you to talk about this program to the next person.”
And NECAT is committed to doing better. We keep reaching for the next person, giving them opportunities no matter their past or personal circumstances, helping them get to where they’d like to be.