The Hidden Costs of Prison
Keeping people in prison is expensive—both monetarily and socially. We see the impact in our taxes and feel it within our communities and within families. And the costs are increasing. As a society, we are just beginning to be aware of and understand the extent and complexity of this problem. But the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh (TIP) has been wrestling with this issue for ten years and has achieved a level of success that is receiving national recognition.
The prison recidivism dilemma has brought leaders in the private and public sectors together to explore approaches to reduce the impact and long-term consequences of a first-time criminal offense and get former offenders on a new, positive pathway when they are released.
It’s a big challenge. The United States has the largest incarcerated population in the world. With only 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of the world’s inmates. After release, the formerly incarcerated are labeled “ex-cons” for the rest of their lives. This tag dramatically reduces their prospects for legitimate work that pays a livable wage. With these handicaps it’s not surprising that unemployment rates can be as high as 70% among ex-offenders and consequently recidivism rates are soaring.
It’s Not Easy Being Free
When leaving prison, a person faces many challenges such as re-entering a community, learning a skill, and getting a job. Not as obvious is the need to learn daily life skills such as banking, budgeting, using a computer, and finding transportation. A continual challenge is finding stable housing—at any given time up to 30% of TIP students are homeless. The overarching challenge leaders are confronting is how to provide a comprehensive re-entry program that addresses the entire spectrum of ex-prisoners’ life needs and helps them become productive members of their communities.
While life skills are an important component of TIP’s program, the key component is on-the-job training and skill development. The core of the program is reflected in its name—the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh. Teaching construction trade skills like brick laying, welding, and carpentry lead TIP grads into well-paying jobs in an industry that craves skilled workers.
One of the Most Successful Programs in the Country
The Trade Institute of Pittsburgh has been wrestling with the issues facing ex-prisoners for nearly ten years and has quietly built a record of success that is unparalleled in Western Pennsylvania, if not in most of the country. With limited resources, TIP has evolved a practical and successful skill development and training system in a structured, thoughtful environment with a spectrum of programs that foster both work and life skills.
To date, the Trade Institute has graduated over 600 students with 85% receiving immediate employment where they continue to excel and learn. What’s more, TIP sees its graduates helping to transform the communities in which they live. While the state-wide recidivism rate in Pennsylvania is 42.6%, TIP graduates are recidivating at less than 9%. Certainly, taxpayers win but, most importantly, these dedicated former inmates win a new life for themselves and their families.
“Stable affordable housing and employment create the opportunity for people to rebuild their lives and contribute to a better community and TIP is making both those things possible with this initiative”.Larry Swanson, ACTION-Housing
Proven Results Draw Support
As TIP’s record of success becomes more evident, several organizations have reached out to learn how they can provide needed resources and support. The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and the Community Infrastructure and Tourism FUND (CITF) recently awarded grants totaling $450,000 to help TIP move forward. These funds will be used to renovate a multi-unit property near the TIP training facility which will serve as short-term trainee housing until a student graduates and gets back on his feet. Graduates living in the facility will receive wrap-around support services, financial literacy classes, trauma-informed counseling sessions, case management support, and life skills. Once participants are reestablished in the community and achieve stability, ACTION-Housing, Inc. will assist in finding permanent, affordable housing, freeing up room for a new resident.
“The Trade Institute of Pittsburgh is doing a terrific job of preparing people for productive lives in society and breaking the cycle of recidivism. The fact that so many of their graduates are hired into good jobs helps the students improve their quality of life and benefits the community.”Brian Hudson, President of PHFA
Throughout 2019, TIP has seen growing awareness of its programs and success, resulting in growing momentum among community organizations that are vital to expanding its impact. In September TIP was honored at the Manhattan Institute’s Civil Society Awards which recognizes organizations who develop proven models to solve social challenges. This was a nationally recognized honor not only for TIP and its leaders, but also for the entire Pittsburgh community.