The Klamath Basin Second Chance Summit hosted at Klamath Community College last week was attended by more than 50 people interested in learning more about welcoming former inmates into the workforce.
KCC President Dr. Roberto Gutierrez opened the event to explain that within five years of release, more than three-quarters of released prisoners are rearrested. This rate of recidivism — the likelihood of reoffending —drops drastically when education becomes part of the formula.
“With apprenticeship and vocational training, the recidivism rate drops to 30 percent, and at the associate degree level drops to 13.7 percent,” Gutierrez said. “These individuals become part of our communities after they are released. We are going to do as much as possible to help them become productive community members.”
The summit’s keynote speaker, Frank Patka, spent 70 months in prison after being convicted of armed robbery in 2010. While in prison Patka experienced a transformation that redirected the course of his life, and he now shares his experiences to educate others about the importance of providing personal and professional opportunities to former inmates.
Patka is now the executive director of Changing Patterns, a Bend-based non-profit that provides education, mentorship, and resources to individuals exiting the correctional system for the purpose of helping them transition to becoming productive members of their community.
Patka said the three most important elements for successfully transitioning from life on the inside to life on the outside are mentorship, access to resources, and employment. He noted that employment provides freedom, resources provide stability, and mentorship helps change patterns.
“The minute someone starts to have self-worth, their options start opening because they are more willing to step out of their comfort zone and meet new people,” Patka said. “The piece of being an employer is you have a system where someone can come through and they can learn value, learn trust, and become an asset to the community.”
During the summit, participants heard insights and ideas for expanding local job opportunities from Second Chance employment experts, employees, and the businesses that hire them. East Cascades Works partnered with Klamath Community College, Advanced Reporting, WorkSource Klamath, WorkSource Lakeview, and Changing Patterns to bring the Second Chance Summit to the Klamath Basin.
Aelea Christofferson, former owner of ATL Communications in Bend, said that many times probation and parole commitments do not accommodate daytime work hours. She explained that mandatory appointments, such as counseling, court, or meeting with a probation or parole officer are likely to take place during the day and advised employers to be realistic about expectations.
“You need to understand that they can’t control those things. These are appointments they are not going to be able to cancel,” Christofferson said. “You have to consider all of these things, because the worst thing you can do is hire somebody, have them go in the right direction, then lay them off for things they can’t do anything about. It really sets them back a long way.”
Dave Groff, the general council at Oregon Tech, emphasized the importance of placing the right person in the right job. Groff said job placement is not as simple as whether someone has a conviction — it’s also a matter of what has happened since then, such as treatment or counseling. “Try to match the right person to the right job, and make an assessment about whether there is a risk related to them,” Groff said. “You need to make a specific decision related to a specific job, to what their skill sets are and who they are going to be potentially interacting with.”
Nicholas Fein, of background and drug screening company Advanced Reporting, recommended that employers who utilize a background screening company ensure they understand the information they receive. He said it’s possible to opt-out of arrest records and only receive conviction records. “If there’s information in the background report that you don’t understand, feel free to ask the candidate or the background screening company about it,” Fein said.
Suzie Galloway, of Collins Products, said Collins applicants are evaluated for the skills they have and who they are on that day, not who they were in the past. She said skills, like showing up for work on time and being willing to do your best, are important deciding factors in the hiring process. “It’s all up to you if you want to be in our workforce. We will hire the best candidate. We don’t care what your background is. If you let us know ‘I’m willing to come to work every day and to do my job; I want to be your best employee,’ we are going to give you an opportunity in your interview to shine,” Galloway said. “Whether you are a second chance candidate or someone that’s gone from job to job, we are going to look at you as an individual.”
Patka said his success was significantly influenced by community members who have embraced him and given him an opportunity to show that he can be trusted. “Take a chance and invest in people like myself and others and see what happens. I think you’ll be surprised at the outcome in a positive way,” Patka said.