During his 31-year tenure with the R.I. Department of Corrections – 18 as director – A.T. Wall helped prioritize job placement and preparation programs as a major tenant in reducing recidivism rates among inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions.
Set to retire at the end of the month as the nation’s longest-serving corrections director, Wall believes he’s leaving the department in a good place – on course to continue helping former inmates land employment opportunities with businesses.
As director, Wall said he came to see job placement as “the key to successful reintegration.”
Placing former inmates in jobs allows those “who are eager, to reclaim their status as a productive and law-abiding citizen,” he said.
Wall said the department doesn’t keep a “running tab” of former inmates matched with job placements, data he said he’d like to see tracked.
For example, the ACI’s barbering, carpentry, mechanical and gardening programs, among others, all prepare inmates for the mainstream workforce. But the department could not provide data on the number of inmates enrolled in those programs.
The ACI’s LEAPII program, a 1-year-old system that matches current inmates with employers they will work for after release, linked 27 current inmates with local firms in its first year.
Wall is not worried job-placement programs will become less of a priority for the department after he retires.
“The number of people who question the value of that approach [is] exceedingly small from what it might have been 20 years ago,” he said. Such programs, he said, “have been integrated into the culture of the department, incorporated into our largest goals of successful transition into the community and prisoner re-entry that will lead to a law-abiding life. … [They] are here to stay.”
Roger Williams University’s Pivot the Hustle works with inmates to prepare them for the mainstream workforce. The 2-year-old program, which launches its fifth cohort in February, “would not have happened without [Wall’s] leadership,” insisted Jamie Scurry, RWU dean of the School of Continuing Studies.
She also believes Wall’s support for job-placement and -preparedness programs is why they are now ingrained in the RIDOC system. Scurry added that Wall “genuinely and sincerely cares about inmates and increasing their access to high-quality employment.”
Wall thinks growing support from the business community is one of the biggest reasons to be hopeful about the future of the programs. Former inmates have been hired by employers in multiple industries, including manufacturing, assembly lines, services, hospitality and various small businesses, he says.
There are, said Wall, a “wide variety of industries willing to take a chance on someone who has been in prison.”