Education leaders provide job opportunities to West Virginians leaving prison

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An effort to help more West Virginians enter the workforce following drug recovery or incarceration is underway.

Jacob Green

Across the state, there are more job openings than people applying. Meanwhile, West Virginia continues to see high numbers of people suffering from drug addiction.

Jacob Green, superintendent of the West Virginia Department of Education’s Schools of Diversion and Transition (WVSDT), told MetroNews most of those individuals need help navigating their options.

“In the state of West Virginia, when they step out of prison, they have 851 potential barriers they have to get to simply because they have a criminal record,” Green said. “That could cause them issue with access to employment, housing, transportation, the list goes on.”

Green spoke during a Re-Entry and Recovery Works Conference at the Charleston Marriott Town Center last week. The goal of the conference was to highlight education and job opportunities to people who have trouble securing a good job.

Mendy Marshall, director of the WV Office of Adult Education, took part in the conference. Carrie Hodousek/WVMetroNews

“We know that if we can get someone a job and a living wage, all those other barriers become a little easier,” Green said.

Recent data from the WVDE shows the number of West Virginians incarcerated has grow five-fold over the last 30 years, meaning there will be a lot of people who will eventually re-enter society after serving their time.

“Regional jails are short term, but even prisons with the new early parole there’s a lot more people getting out now than there was five years ago,” Green said.

Many people in the state’s prison system remain unemployed a year after their release.

The WVSDT provides educational services to more than 6,000 juveniles and adults in residential and other state-operated facilities.

Mendy Marshall, director of the WVDE’s Office of Adult Education, had a booth set up at the conference to showcase their work.

“It’s a service that we provide to adults who maybe lack their high school equivalency, maybe they had to drop out of school or they need skills to enter into the workforce, or even transition to post-secondary education and training,” Marshall explained.

The office offers high school equivalency testing and testing prep, along with customer service
skills, Microsoft Office certifications and more.

Virtual training is offered in addition to a device loan program.

“If they don’t have a device at home and they’ve enrolled in our classroom, they can check out a device so that they can work on it at home. We try to eliminate as many barriers as we can to help them be successful,” Marshall said.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Office of Drug Control Policy held the conference in partnership with the WVSDT. Last month, office director Dr. Matthew Christiansen told state lawmakers, during a presentation overdose deaths, more people are using the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Christianan added at the time he’s “hopeful” the numbers have peaked since the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospital visits related to drug over doses have leveled off, according to the DHHR’s dashboard.

The additional sponsors at last week’s conference include Jobs & Hope WV, Marshall University Health, REACH, Right On Crime, the U.S. Department of Justice, WorkForce West Virginia, the state Division of Rehabilitation Services and West Virginia Reentry Councils.

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