Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $899,936)
The Educating and Motivating Purposeful Opportunities with Employment in Re-entering (EMPOWER) Black Men program, with leadership from the Urban League of Central Carolinas (ULCC) and Operation Gateway Inc. (subrecipient), aims to change rates of recidivism, displacement, desistance from crime, and employment among Black men incarcerated in Western North Carolina (WNC) who will, upon release, reside in Buncombe County, NC. Working with three correctional facilities in WNC, the EMPOWER program will provide in-and out-reach services for justice-involved individuals to reduce disparities among justice-involved Black men in WNC. Black men who are incarcerated at a partnering correctional facility (Craggy, Foothills, and Rutherford); have at least 90 days left in their sentence; and have a history of violent offenses will be eligible for EMPOWER with prioritization given to those who screen positive for substance abuse and demonstrate intrinsic motivation for success.
The Buncombe County Re-Entry Council will provide the Project Director (PD, contracted by Operation Gateway) with a list of eligible individuals who will be contacted by the Community Health Worker (CHW, contracted by Operation Gateway). The CHW will work 1:1 with individuals virtually or in-person monthly to set goals, conduct assessments, reunification planning, work readiness skill development, and other needs as identified in the initial assessments (biopsychosocial evaluation; Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; and the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test 2.0). These results will help identify strengths in employment skills, readiness for change, job placement and vocational training opportunities, and additional resource referral coordination for those enrolled in the program. At the time of release, a reunification plan inclusive of employment and/or training/education, housing, and healthcare will be completed, and participants will meet weekly with the CHW through the first-year post-release. A document of wraparound resources in an accessible, easy to read format will be provided and the CHW will serve as a convener of services.
To increase employer willingness to hire justice involved individuals, the PD will meet regularly with local employers. Testimonies from other employers who have had success will be provided and the PD will work with employers to ensure policies are supportive of hiring those who are justice involved.
Through EMPOWER, Black men in WNC will have reduced 1-year recidivism rates; increased desistance from crime; reduced displacement rates; reduced unemployment rates; increased skills in workforce readiness; increased emotional intelligence; and higher feelings of self-worth and hope.