Living the Life: Breaking Down Barriers to Successful Reentry

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The obstacles ex-offenders face on the road to reestablishing themselves as citizens in the community can be overwhelming. One goal of the re-entry simulation program is to help participants experience first-hand some of the unnecessary barriers returning citizens face following an incarceration.

In March, Central Iowa Works was invited to share our most recent presentation of the offender re-entry simulation during the 2017 AIWP Conference in Des Moines. The program, which was developed by the United States Attorney’s Office, is designed to take between 20 and 35 participants through a four-week period in the life of an ex-offender – in about 90 minutes.

Those “living the life” are assigned the identity of a fictional offender and asked to navigate through a series of events in an effort to successfully reintegrate into the community. The “reality” they discover could include anything from struggling with homelessness, trying to find a job with little to no money or a lack of transportation, or something as seemingly simple as securing an ID.

At Central Iowa Works, we know that the barriers facing ex-offenders are real. Our goal is to close the skills gap and meet the needs of employers by helping them to recruit and hire qualified workers for jobs in central Iowa. At the same time, we strive to address the needs of job seekers by helping them get trained and hired for real jobs with pathways for growth.

It takes approximately 20 to 25 individuals to operate the re-entry simulation as they “staff” the various agencies – such as clinics, rehabilitation centers and employment offices – that participants are required to visit as they return to the community.

While any person would find it a useful exercise, the re-entry simulation program can be particularly helpful to employers, policy makers, elected officials, faith-based communities, community-based organizations, criminal justice majors and law enforcement personnel.

Participants who see the session through to successful completion tend to walk away with a greater appreciation for the challenges faced by returning citizens upon their release from prison. At this year’s AIWP conference, a panel of re-entry experts also provided additional content to the issue.

This is just one of the ways we are working to build ladders among job seekers and employers – by breaking down barriers between them.

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