The University of New Orleans has collaborated with the Orleans Justice Center to teach important jobs preparedness skills to incarcerated people who are nearing release. It is called P.R.E.P—Pre-Release Education Program—and program graduates earn a certificate in Professional Preparedness from UNO's Division of Professional and Continuing Education.
They also leave with a polished resume and a laptop computer, provided by the UNO Urban Entrepreneurship and Policy Institute, said Chris Surprenant, philosophy professor and director of UNO’s Urban Entrepreneurship and Policy Institute.
“We thought that this would be a valuable service for our community and somewhere we could make a positive contribution,” Surprenant said. “The goal of the program is to provide something of value to these people—and to our city as a whole—that will put them in the best position to not have future encounters with our criminal justice system.”
The four-week, eight-session course was facilitated by UNO philosophy professors JP Messina and Jake Monaghan, and included classes on professional communication, resume writing, job interview skills, financial literacy and continuing education, each of which is aimed at facilitating re-entry into society and reducing recidivism. The hour-long sessions were held twice a week at the justice center.
There were 12 incarcerated people enrolled in the fall session, all of whom were selected by Sheriff Marlin Gusman.
“The Orleans Justice Center Re-Entry Course provides inmates with the skills and tools necessary to succeed as hardworking members of the greater New Orleans community,” Gusman said. “The Sheriff’s Office is pleased to collaborate with the University of New Orleans in rebuilding the lives of inmates who can use their newly acquired skills to positively impact their families, and contribute to the well-being of our city.”
Gregory W. Carroll, director of the justice center’s offender programs, said one group of re-entry offenders has already earned certificates from the University of New Orleans and the Orleans Justice Center Re-Entry Course and a second cohort is underway.
“We hope this re-entry course serves as a launching pad to instill confidence, seek employment and possibly business opportunities, but also further their desires to continue their education, and become productive citizens of the Greater New Orleans area and beyond,” Carroll said.
In addition to PREP, UNO also created a for-credit, service-learning course for UNO students this fall that focused on issues in ethics and the criminal justice system, Surprenant said.
The students not only helped teach those incarcerated how to create email accounts, write resumes and work on speaking skills, they also led discussions with them from relevant scholarly texts in philosophy, politics, and economics that focused on criminal justice issues.
“As a final project, students write a collaborative report integrating their direct experiences with the criminal legal system and their engagement with the scholarly literature,” Surprenant said. “This experience gives students a different perspective on the justice system, while, at the same time, providing a valuable service to the people who are in our local jail and are nearing release.”