Research scientist works with nonprofit to help people adjust to life after prison
January 27, 2023
A research faculty member of the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance is working with a Roanoke non-profit to help people who are incarcerated in the city’s jail.
David Moore, a research scientist with the institute who works closely with Total Action Against Poverty, will serve as the startup and implementation manager of a $3 million federal grant to provide job training and other services to incarcerated people as they leave the Roanoke City jail.
TAP received the Pathway Home grant from the U.S. Department of Labor in June 2022. It is one of 18 initiatives in 14 states chosen to participate in the $50.6 million federal grant program.
For Moore, his interest in this type of work goes back to the early days of the institute’s founding in 2003, when he and director Max Stephenson, Jr., decided to build on their passion for non-profit capacity building.
“If the university can help strengthen non-profit organizations, then non-profits can help vulnerable populations, and in turn, the community’s overall well-being,” said Moore. “The university can help provide additional resources.”
Pathway Home grants are meant to build networks among local employers to create job opportunities for those who are incarcerated. This grant coordinates with a broader RIGNITE program run by the city sheriff’s office, which strives to take a different approach to incarceration by focusing on rehabilitation.
TAP Pathway Home program staff begin working with participants between 20 to 270 days before their release date, facilitating everything from career exploration, job readiness, and job skills training. Post-release services include apprenticeship opportunities, career services, interview preparation, and crafting an employment plan. A special focus of the program is providing training opportunities in fields such as construction, warehousing, food service, and customer service, industries in which employers are sometimes willing to hire individuals with a criminal background.
Jo Nelson, director of This Valley Works at TAP, believes this grant can contribute to reshaping the prison system.
“Pathway Home is an exciting venture for us,” Nelson said. “By investing in reentry training for the workforce, we are rethinking the purpose through which jails should be operating.”
The program aims to serve 300 participants from the Roanoke City jail who are in the post-conviction phase and are serving full-time. The program has a three-month startup phase that began in July, followed by 27 months of active programming.
TAP will provide a one-year follow-up as participants transition out of intensive services. While there may be reentry resources available for the incarcerated population coming out of the prison system, Moore said local jails often have fewer reentry programs and support available to their residents.
“People who serve their time in local jail often don’t have access to those resources,” Moore said. “As a result, they tend to have a higher recidivism [reentering prison] rate. With this proposal, we decided to focus on Roanoke City jail thanks to its leadership believing that the jail should be rehabilitative and provide services, rather than just warehousing people for a period of time.”
Recidivism, the process of previously convicted individuals reentering the criminal justice system, is a recurring problem for local jails. Approximately 9 million people are released from local jails each year, but two out of three are rearrested and over 50 percent are incarcerated, according to Harvard Political Review. This cycle is costly for society, as taxpayer dollars may pay for arrests, trials, court proceedings, incarceration, and supervision, in addition to the loss of productivity and quality of life of the individuals who are repeatedly jailed, according to Illinois Policy.
Pathway Home can help break this cycle by providing tangible resources through credible partners to ensure previously incarcerated individuals have access to a safety net as they transition post-release.
Some of TAP’s partners for the Pathway Home program include Virginia Career Works, Bradley Free Clinic’s HOPE Initiative, and Virginia CARES, which is Virginia’s statewide reentry program. These organizations will help to provide career services, as well as mental health and recovery resources. An estimated 56 percent of state prisoners in the U.S. deal with mental health struggles according to the Urban Institute, and 85 percent have had a substance use disorder (SUD) or were incarcerated for a crime involving drug use, per the National Institutes of Health. In Virginia, 90 percent of jails provide therapy programs for SUD and 86 percent for mental health because of these high rates, according to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.
Moore is quick to attribute community collaborators as the driving force behind the success of the Pathway Home proposal.
“We won this grant thanks to our great partnerships,” he said. “Many community partners are coming together with the Roanoke City jail. Thanks to this grant, we now have the ability and the financial resources to help the incarcerated population in Roanoke City.”
Moore’s collaboration with TAP began in 2014. He served as a facilitator for the Early Head Start partnership to expand early childhood education in the Roanoke and New River Valleys. Moore also helped TAP lead SwiftStart, a DOL-funded Strengthening Working Families Initiative (SWFI) program that assisted under-employed parents with childcare, transportation, and other wraparound supports that made it possible for them to succeed in a job training program in a high-demand field such as healthcare.
More recently, Moore worked with TAP on a DOL-funded Re-Employment, Support, and Training for the Opioid Related Epidemic (RESTORE) workforce grant to support women impacted by the opioid crisis who endeavored to advance their careers through access to job training and employment services.
For Moore, this work is rooted in Virginia Tech’s motto.
“In the spirit of Ut Prosim it is a service to the community,” Moore said. “Managing those partnerships is part of the collective governance work that VTIPG does.”
Written by Billy Parvatam