A balanced, proven approach to reducing recidivism and restoring civic life
The US is suffering from an acute incarceration crisis that has disproportionately impacted the nation’s poorest communities. Poverty is a strong corollary of incarceration: the median pre-incarceration income of men in prison is 52 percent lower than their non-incarcerated counterparts. Moreover, incarceration exacerbates poverty; over 2,000 men each year are paroled homeless in NewYork City alone.
The moral cost to society and the financial impact on taxpayers are profound and destructive. The Doe Fund’s Ready Willing & Able program works to alleviate both.
For more than twenty five years, Ready, Willing & Able has successfully addressed the dual issues of recidivism and poverty and delivered tens of thousands of men back to their families and communities as productive, stable members of society. Ready, Willing & Able transitions formerly incarcerated men to the mainstream by offering a unique combination of paid work, transitional housing, professional career training, comprehensive social services and case management, and by requiring child support payments and sobriety.
The program was originally designed by Harriet and George McDonald to address the homeless crisis of the mid-1980s. Over time, the exhaustive data produced by Ready, Willing & Able proved the program’s efficacy in managing an individual’s return from prison. Today, Ready, Willing & Able is the most comprehensive residential reentry program in the nation — and the only post-incarceration program validated by decades of painstaking data collection.
An independent study by Dr. Bruce Western of Harvard University concluded that Ready, Willing & Able reduces recidivism dramatically. According to his findings, graduates of the program are 60 percent less likely to be convicted of a felony three years after exiting the program.
Even participants who depart the program before completing vocational trainings experience benefits across the criminal justice spectrum. After the first five months of Ready Willing & Able, participants are 56 percent less likely to commit a violent crime three years later. Overall, Ready, Willing & Able cuts the risk of future police contact by a third.
The transformative power of work
At the heart of the Ready, Willing & Able program is paid transitional work — the opportunity to go to work and earn money from a participant’s first day in the program — complemented by personalized case management and social services, education, career development and training, and lifelong alumni services. The program has been honed and refined over twenty five years, with precise data collection and analysis driving continuous improvement. Ready, Willing & Able has produced more than 6,400 graduates since its inception in 1990.
The Ready, Willing & Able program’s benefits extend far beyond the population it serves, however. The program saves the citizens of New York millions of dollars each year. An independent audit concluded that for every dollar utilized in Ready, Willing & Able , the taxpayer saved $3.60 in costs associated with emergency city services and the criminal justice system.
Despite the demonstrable power of work to transform lives and rebuild civic life, Ready, Willing & Able remains the only proven program that combines paid transitional work with rigorous, personalized case management, first rate transitional housing, social services, vocational training, and education.
Ready, Willing & Able begins with an education assessment and personal history inventory, a customized social services and education plan administered by a dedicated case manager and one month of stabilization during which a trainee begins earning money by performing light custodial duties in-house.
A participant’s wages are automatically deposited into a personal savings account administered by the program. Beginning with his first paycheck, a participant must pay child support, set aside savings and remit nominal fees for room and board. Child support paves the way for family reunification upon exiting, while mandatory savings and room and board payments prepare a participant for the rigors of independent living. All Ready, Willing & Able participants must abstain from substance and alcohol use and are drug tested randomly, twice a week.
After a participant’s stabilization period is complete, he begins three to four months in the Community Improvement Project , in which crews of “men in blue” clean over 170 miles of New York City streets and sidewalks each day under contracts with Business Improvement Districts, City Council members and park and public space organizations.
This introductory work improves the quality of life for city residents while teaching participants the soft-skills of employment, personal responsibility and teamwork — replacing the culture of prison with the mores of mainstream, working society.
Throughout the program during evenings and off hours, participants are actively engaged in mandatory classes and workshops that cover foundational education and a variety of essential skills, including parenting (required for those with children under 18), adult literacy, financial management, conflict resolution and relapse prevention. Elective educational opportunities are also available, including the chance to achieve high school equivalency diplomas and pursue post-secondary coursework and degrees.
Around the halfway point of the program, participants enter professionally licensed career training tracks in one of several recession-proof, growth industries, including the Culinary Arts, Commercial Driving, Pest Control, Building Maintenance, and Fleet Management/Logistics. Each training track is taught by professional instructors, on site in The Doe Fund’s facilities. Most end with a certification and professional license, significantly enhancing the likelihood of a higher starting wage and the potential for lifelong career advancement.
In the final months of the program, clients participate in dress rehearsal-style mock interviews with corporate volunteers. The program’s onsite graduate services department links participants with employment opportunities through a network of over 400 employer partners. Housing specialists help participants identify and apply for self-supported apartments. After securing independent housing and private sector employment, all graduates are eligible to receive lifelong career services and social service support.
In the year following graduation, Ready, Willing & Able provides $1,000 as a savings matching grant in installments. An installment is paid only when a graduate checks in with their caseworker and reports on their employment, housing, and criminal justice statuses. Employment must be verified by pay stubs; housing is verified by a rent receipt. Incentivizing the reporting of outcomes has provided the program unmatched, fully validated data to drive constant improvement.
Program length: 9-12 months, including one month of post-incarceration orientation and sobriety stabilization with in-house paid work; three months of paid transitional work on street cleaning crews; 4-6 months of intensive vocational training and paid work; one to two months of job and housing search. Social services and personalized case management follow participants throughout the program. Lifelong graduate services are available, including job and housing placement, for those who require additional assistance.
Requirements : Stable physical and mental condition for work; abstinence from drugs and alcohol, verified by twice weekly drug testing.
Earnings & Savings: Participants earn money from their first day in the program. Mandatory savings, room and board contributions, and continuous child support payment ensure self-sufficiency and provide the opportunity to reunite with family upon exiting.
Education & Coursework: Adult literacy and high school equivalency courses; computer training; personal financial management; conflict resolution; fatherhood workshops; relapse prevention.
Vocational Training & Professional Licenses: Onsite, professional instruction and licensing in Commercial Driving (CDL License); Pest Control (NY State License); Culinary Arts/Food Handling (ServSafe Certified); Green Building Maintenance (OSHA Certified); Logistics, Dispatch, and Crew Management.
Data collection and utilization: Hundreds of data points collected at intake, throughout the program, and in one- to three-year follow ups including demographics, family characteristics, foster care history, education, criminal justice histories, substance abuse, job retention, wages and sectors, and many other categories. Data is leveraged internally to drive program improvements and externally, by the academic and policy communities, for research initiatives.
Transition to independence: Graduate services departments connect participants with a network of over 400 private sector employers that have partnered with The Doe Fund to fill open entry-level positions. Corporate partners draw talent from Ready, Willing & Able because of the bottom-line benefits of employing program graduates, including lower turnover, higher productivity, sobriety, and the desire for continual advancement within a company. Housing specialists help participants identify safe, stable residences.
Post-graduate services : Post-graduation services, including social services, housing placement assistance, and ongoing career services, help ensure a participant’s long term independence and success. Transitional work is available to all graduates in the event of a short-term employment lapse. A $1,000 savings matching grant is provided in installments to graduates who report on and verify their outcomes.