Mayor Adams speaks at a "hiring hall" (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)
Mayor Adams’ 2023 State of the City address had a theme. He called it the Working People’s Agenda. Adams asserted that job development, especially for the Black community, would be a top priority.
At Exodus Transitional Community, we’ve been putting the mayor’s agenda themes to work for years. Exodus is a preventative, reentry, and advocacy organization led and staffed by formerly incarcerated New Yorkers. We provide workforce development offerings, specifically job readiness programming and placement services. Our Employment Specialists support people in maintaining employment as well as in advancing their careers.
In 2022, we served over 900 justice-impacted people with career readiness services, placing 450 people in employment positions. As a result, families are now supported because their loved ones were able to secure jobs and become responsible tax-paying citizens. The payoff for the wider community in New York City also includes greater public safety.
In addition to providing direct services, Exodus advocates for a society in which all can achieve social, economic, and spiritual well-being. We co-chair the Employment and Entrepreneurial Subcommittee on the Commission for Community Investment and the Closure of Rikers Island. We have worked alongside activists for years in the fight to close the Rikers Island jail complex.
The Commission has called for significant investments in employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for formerly and currently incarcerated New Yorkers. We know that ensuring people have stable housing and employment are the two greatest factors in reducing recidivism.
Roughly 95% of the people who are detained or incarcerated will be released back to our communities. To ensure community safety, we must invest in people and communities – job training and placement opportunities are key. What we see daily in our programs is backed up by extensive research that shows increased income and decreased unemployment have direct effects on reducing crime.
Unfortunately New York City has been behind many other large cities in bouncing back from the high rates of job loss and unemployment caused by covid. This calls for targeted action and scaling up the programs that work.
Our Employment Services Program is filled with inspiring success stories of people returning from incarceration. Vernon, for example, was unemployed with no marketable skills. By chance, he met the Office Manager at Exodus near his neighborhood park where they discussed potential employment opportunities. Vernon became involved with Exodus, attending and completing Walking through the Wilderness, our job readiness program. His job search reached a breakthrough with a national, full-service security firm based in New York, where he works as a licensed security guard and is regarded as a highly motivated individual. Vernon personifies what works.
Vanessa’s story is another example of Exodus’ workforce development program in action. She came to Exodus striving to work in the healthcare field. However, she struggled during interviews in communicating that she had the transferable skills needed to be an ideal job candidate. Our Employment Specialists stepped in and coached Vanessa through extensive mock interviewing sessions. Vanessa’s breakthrough came when she was hired as an Office Administrator in a medical facility. Her resilience has become an inspiration to others.
Vanessa, Vernon, and the many other people Exodus serves have at least one thing in common: a burning desire to put their talents and abilities to work and provide for themselves and their families.
“You need good jobs and pathways to get those jobs,” Mayor Adams said — and we agree. The work Exodus and the Commission for Community Investment and the Closure of Rikers Island do is aligned with these goals, and it also serves another valuable function — investing in the lives of our most vulnerable New Yorkers. We don’t need a ‘Plan B’ for closing Rikers, we just need Mayor Adams’ budget priorities to line up with his professed intentions. Then we will see a reduction in incarceration alongside a more robust workforce.
Unfortunately, the Commission’s recommendations have not been taken seriously by Mayor Adams, and contracts for nonprofits that provide workforce development have been cut citywide. Yet Rikers continues to get paid for what doesn’t work – to the tune of over $550,000 per incarcerated person per year. Instead of investing in solutions to scale, such as workforce development programming and training, our City is languishing in debt from a mismanaged Department of Correction and our community members are literally dying on Rikers Island. We can and must do better as a city.
Brittany Smith is Associate Vice President of Workforce Development and Kandra Clark is Vice President of Policy & Strategy at Exodus Transitional Community. On Twitter @etcnyorg.