Hartford Foundation Submits Testimony on House Bill 5128 to the Committee on Higher Education

On Tuesday, February 22, 2022, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving submitted testimony to the Committee on Higher Education and Employment Advancement on House Bill 5128, An Act Concerning the Task Force Established to Evaluate Whether to Establish a Post-Secondary Prison Education Office.

As part of our efforts to dismantle structural racism and improve social and economic mobility for Black and Latinx residents of Greater Hartford, the Hartford Foundation seeks to increase stable employment opportunities for adults and youth in our region facing barriers to employment, including returning citizens. The Foundation has a long history of supporting returning citizens by connecting them to sustaining wage employment. We work towards accelerating inclusive economic growth and increasing opportunities for engaging people who often have been left behind. This requires investments to educate, train, and retain talent—including underserved and underrepresented populations—to meet the needs of employers more fully.

This work recognizes that all residents of our region need access to training and employment options that provide a sustaining wage. In Greater Hartford, there are a number of job openings, but there is misalignment between the skillsets required and the skills of the current workforce. We have heard from employers that training programs must also integrate essential job readiness skills, including communications, time management, teamwork, computer skills and other basic competencies fundamental success in many work settings. These transferable skills as well as technical skills support career advancement.

The Foundation’s efforts focus on increasing training opportunities and hiring and retaining residents with significant barriers to employment including returning citizens and opportunity youth disconnected from school and work. Having access to post-secondary education in prison has many benefits. According to a study conducted by the Urban Institute, involvement in postsecondary correctional education can have positive effects on inmate behavior and creates a safer prison environment. Stakeholders at correctional facilities commonly reported that postsecondary correctional education that leads to obtaining employment reduces recidivism.

The Foundation has funded critical reentry supports to help returning citizens succeed, including preemployment training and job placement assistance offered through the Reentry Welcome Center in Hartford and the BEST Chance Program, both of which provide individuals with access to basic services and referrals to job training and other programs that can support the range of needs of returning citizens. This ensures that they have securing housing, health and other services need to hold a job. Over the past three years, the Center for Children’s Advocacy (CCA) expanded legal services available to Greater Hartford youth ages 16 to 23 transitioning from confinement to address access to education, employment, and other basic needs. CCA is part of the ecosystem of nonprofits working with Roca, COMPASS Youth Collaborative, and Our Piece of the Pie to address the needs of opportunity youth in Hartford. The Foundation has also provided support to Asnuntuck Community College for its Second Chance Pell (SCP) incarcerated students in Enfield correctional facilities.

Last year, the Foundation supported legislation to create a post-secondary prison education office to coordinate facilitation of prison education programs in partnership with approved institutions of higher education and ensure equitable access to resources required for the successful completion of prison education programs. The Foundation recognizes that House Bill 5128 changes the membership of the task force to determine the need to create this new office and extending the deadline for it to report to the legislature. The Foundation would strongly encourage legislative leaders to include representation of people with lived experience in the corrections programs as well as people who have been released and navigated securing and sustaining employment. With these perspectives the task force can more fully consider the need for the new office and integrate the needs of incarcerated men and women and to support returning citizens to find and keep jobs.

The Hartford Foundation is eager to partner with policymakers, advocates and businesses to eliminate barriers to employment for returning citizens to ensure that all residents have an opportunity to participate in the workforce and achieve economic stability and have opportunities to thrive and enhance Connecticut’s economy.