Offering a second chance for a better life

For returning citizens, gainful employment can make the difference between recidivism and success.

Every year in Connecticut, more than 10,000 individuals are released into the community from one of our correctional institutions. Without support, about half will end up back in jail within two years. But with a job, returning citizens are far more likely to become productive members of our communities, reintegrating successfully and living independently without re-offending. That’s why education and job training programs are so important.

Led by Community Partners in Action (CPA), STARR Training to Work 2 (STARR T2W2) is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and is one of nine programs receiving a multi-year grant from the Foundation’s Career Pathways Initiative. Each Career Pathways program grant supports residents with limited literacy and employment skills, including the homeless, English language learners, immigrants, single parents, at-risk youth, former offenders, and others with persistent barriers to getting and keeping a job.

STARR T2W2 leverages existing supervision, interim housing, employment, and case management systems at community-based Work Release Programs, and adds credentialed training programs, job placement and retention assistance for up to 125 men and women.

CPA identified five in-demand pathway entries:

  • Masonry
  • Construction
  • Green Industries
  • Commercial Driving Licensing
  • Culinary Arts
These pathways are open to those with or without a high school diploma, and incorporate internships and on-the-job learning.

No one agency can deploy this kind of comprehensive effort alone. Success requires partnerships. Lots of them.

CPA has assembled a Collaborative Leadership Team powered by state agencies, respected organizations, training and educational institutions, and socially conscious employers. They all have strong connections to their communities and excellent relationships with other agencies benefitting formerly incarcerated men and women.

Billings Forge Community Works and Zest 280 are two such partners.

Returning citizens enrolled in a participating Work Release Program can apply to a STARR T2W2 career pathway that meets their interests, including CPA’s Culinary Training Collaborative with Billings Forge and Zest 280.

Participants start their training in The Kitchen at Billings Forge, Hartford’s premier farm-to-table catering business and café. Their culinary education combines classroom instruction with on-site experiential learning in food handling, cooking methods, plating and presentation, culinary math, facilities management, and more. The full-time, 10-week paid training program yields the industry standard certification required for all food service managers.

Once this initial training is complete, participants move on to a 10-week paid externship at Zest 280, a mission-based eatery in West Hartford owned by Louis Lista, who also owns Pond House Café. Individuals are trained by the Café Manager and Executive Chef in a variety of culinary skills, and by the Lead Server and Operations Manager in front-of-the-house skills.

Once participants have finished the entire program, they receive assistance with job placement, along with nine months of follow-up support and mentoring to help them keep that job. Potential jobs with a living wage include restaurant chefs and positions in university or corporate cafeterias.

Funding from the Foundation enabled CPA to hire a dedicated job developer to build and maintain relationships with employers like Zest 280, and to support their efforts in job training, hiring and retention.

And thanks to leaders like Billings Forge and Zest 280, more employers are recognizing the individual, family and community impact of hiring candidates with a history of incarceration.

Launching a long-term career builds independence and well-being for the returning citizen and their family. It strengthens Connecticut’s workforce, reduces recidivism and increases public safety. The investment is also highly cost-effective. It costs the state approximately $39,000 annually to incarcerate one person, while the cost of STARR T2W2 is $8,000 per person.

Together, we can give Connecticut’s returning citizens a fair chance to rebuild their life, attain family economic security and contribute to a thriving community.


Lead Agency:
Community Partners in Action

Work Release Programs:
Department of Correction
Community Partners in Action
Community Solutions Inc.
The Open Hearth

Families in Crisis

Training, Education and Employment:
Billings Forge Community Works*
Bricks Blocks and Mortar*
Capital Region Education Council
Capital Workforce Partners
Global Health Consultants*
North Star Center for Human Development

Other Partners:
CT Department of Labor
City of Hartford*
The Pond House Café*
Capital Community College
Hartford Adult Education
Connecticut Women’s Education & Legal Fund
Alcohol & Drug Recovery Council

*Also employers