Breaking the cycle of incarceration: UC Aspire and Nehemiah Manufacturing

Nehemiah partners with UC Aspire to provide training, opportunities for justice impacted individuals

Next Lives Here and for some, that means being given a second chance.

Leaving prison should mean a fresh start, but for many justice-impacted individuals it presents more challenges. In the U.S., 70% of freed inmates will be arrested again within 5 years (U.S. Prison Population, 2019). It is extremely difficult to break the prison cycle, but UC Aspire is partnering with Nehemiah Manufacturing to do just that.

Nehemiah Manufacturing, founded in 2009 with the mission to build brands, create jobs, and change lives, employs 250 individuals and 70% of the staff have prior criminal convictions, making Nehemiah’s second chance program the largest in the country. With the support of Nehemiah, UC Aspire kicked off on-the-job education and training in April, which is considered “Second Chance Month” across the U.S.

One in six Americans has a felony record, and Nehemiah offers a fair chance to those who struggle to thrive due to past mistakes. The training program not only enhances careers, but it also provides an opportunity for Nehemiah’s workforce to participate in pathways to promotion, leading to higher wages and internal advancement. Employees attend class weekly onsite at the beginning or end of their shift, and they are provided a loaner laptop to participate in class and practice at home.

Each student is tested during orientation to understand their existing math skills, and activities and exercises are provided throughout the course to meet the unique needs of that student. During the first four weeks, students work on foundational math skills such as, addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, measurements, etc. The next few weeks are spent learning to apply workplace mathematics to industry equipment and technology.

In order to advance at Nehemiah and earn a higher salary, students must pass an internal assessment demonstrating the skills they’ve gained in class. UC Aspire instructors spend the last two weeks simulating that assessment to help students prepare. During the simulation, everyone completes a job task analysis, where they use measurement skills to put products on pallets for shipping. They also practice organizational skills, which they will need to use every day on the job.

multiple students at Nehemiah Manufacturing wait in line for class to start

Students at Nehemiah Manufacturing wait for class to start. Photo/Emily Aleshire

“It’s especially important for justice-impacted individuals to have a safe place to learn and grow,” said Emily Aleshire, director, UC Aspire. “Many have experienced trauma and faced barriers to education throughout their lives, so we rely on trauma-informed instructional practices to help students gain confidence and knowledge. Nehemiah is empowering its workforce to have these experiences that are positive and safe, while developing the skills they need to earn a higher wage, and to hopefully, consider moving on to additional learning opportunities.”

A crucial component of Nehemiah’s success is its reliance on in-house social workers who help address barriers that often plague justice-impacted workers and their families. By focusing on eight pillars of service and support, one of which is “Continued Education,” Nehemiah is able to provide sustainable employment and meet the holistic needs of their workforce.

Kristina Courtland, Social Service Coordinator at Nehemiah, works closely with employees and partners, like UC, to bring support to the workplace, and by extension, to the families and communities that Nehemiah impacts through second chance employment.

“The Social Services Team at Nehemiah Manufacturing Co plays a unique role in the company, essentially serving in an intermediary capacity for the overall wellbeing of NMC Family Members,” said Courtland. “It provides a professional social work service to the second chance population employed at Nehemiah. Being able to assist individuals with reaching their goals and advancing while at work is very fulfilling. Nehemiah provides more than employment for second chance citizens; we provide holistic support and an opportunity for them to grow and reach their goals.”

Featured top image is courtesy of Istock.

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