A new job training program at southern Maine’s juvenile detention center, run by Goodwill Industries, will focus on forming and maintaining ties to area businesses to give juvenile offenders real world work experience before they are released, officials say.

Goodwill’s program starts Monday at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, replacing a job training program that Jobs for Maine Graduates, an Augusta nonprofit, operated out of the facility for the last 12 years.

“Goodwill Youth Services has worked with at-risk youth extensively,” said program manager Jaime Grover.

Existing Long Creek staff will provide some classroom training, while one full-time and two part-time Goodwill employees focus on external job networking, placement and maintenance.

“We’ll be interacting with the students and youth a ton, but not so much classroom time. It will be a lot of hands-on work and actually getting them placed in jobs,” Grover said.

Jobs for Maine Graduates previously ran the job training programs at Long Creek and at the state’s other juvenile detention center, Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston. Both JMG and the Department of Corrections say the other party chose not to renew the contract, which ended June 29. JMG had run the program at Long Creek for about 12 years, and at Mountain View for 10, according to JMG President and Chief Executive Officer Craig Larrabee.

One former graduate, Dustin Richardson, said the Jobs for Maine Graduates program helped him turn around his life.

A one-time addict, he was incarcerated at Long Creek in 2011 for drug trafficking. He is clean now, and works as a cook at Bebe’s Burritos in Biddeford.

“JMG helped me out a lot,” said Richardson, 19, who worked as a custodian at a South Portland nursing home and as a dishwasher at Ruby Tuesdays while he was in the program.

“It helped me with a lot of life skills: It taught me to show up early to interviews and to wear appropriate clothing to interviews.”

Larrabee said he believed the Corrections Department chose not to renew JMG’s contract because of budget considerations and a change in leadership at the facilities. The department’s director of special projects, Scott Fish, however, said it was JMG’s decision to end the program.

Grover said Long Creek officials asked Goodwill to take over the work, and that Goodwill officials were unaware the JMG program was ending.

“Goodwill was approached to provide these services. They knew our expertise,” Grover said.

KEY TO REHABILITATION

In the last year, Goodwill Industries of Northern New England has worked with 4,165 people between 16 and 24 years old in various programs, according to Maureen Puia, director of communications.

The Department of Corrections signed the contract on June 25 with Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, which is being paid $66,000 a year, the same amount as Jobs for Maine’s Graduates’ most recent contract with Long Creek. The contract ends on June 30, 2014.

The department struck the one-year contract with Goodwill, instead of putting out a request for proposals in an open bidding process, because of time constraints, according to Fish. The contract will be open to all bidders next year.

Goodwill had already participated in several projects at Long Creek in recent years, Grover said, including a program that helped foster children who aged out of the system get settled into work, education and housing after they left Long Creek.

Goodwill also worked with Long Creek juveniles as part of the Workforce Investment Act, a federal program that helps young people ages 16 to 21 overcome barriers to work, including incarceration. Grover said Goodwill would frequently work with juveniles who didn’t qualify to enroll in the JMG program, which requires that students be high school graduates.

Experts agree that for young offenders, getting job training, work experience, and hands-on support as they transition out of a detention facility is key to rehabilitation.

Like the JMG program, Goodwill will have a single full-time employee spearheading the program at Long Creek, with two part-time workers helping. Long Creek staff will take over some classroom job training roles, Grover said.

Long Creek Superintendent Jeff Merrill was traveling Friday and not available for an interview.

FOCUS ON GETTING JOBS

This is the first contract Goodwill has signed exclusively with a juvenile detention facility in the region; other programs have been partnerships with other agencies.

Goodwill does operate several adult inmate programs, including Mentor ME, a program for female inmates at the Cumberland County Jail.

Grover said it’s hoped that juveniles in the Long Creek job training program will transition to other Goodwill programs once they leave the facility.

Grover declined to identify the Goodwill employee who will head up the Long Creek program, saying the company wasn’t ready to announce that information.

The program will serve about 100 juveniles a year, and there are currently 26 youths already on a job training track who will be enrolled immediately in the program, she said.

Grover said the youths at Long Creek who qualify to work are frequently in the last six months or so of their time in the center, so the program will focus on getting them jobs that they can start while they’re still at Long Creek and keep after they leave.

“We’re hoping to be able to place them in positions before they leave the facility,” Grover said. “We’re going to be really focused on building business relationships.”

 

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com