Harrisburg, PA – Education staff at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Huntingdon recently hosted a Virtual Reentry/Career Fair in collaboration with the Department of Corrections' Reentry Office. Nearly 30 soon-to-be-released inmates participated in a day of virtual presentations with employers and service providers.
"Even with the added challenges presented by COVID-19, preparing incarcerated individuals for reentry is at the forefront of what we do," Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said. "This was a fantastic event that helped provide important information to individuals preparing to leave our facilities and reenter the community."
Each state prison normally hosts a Reentry/Career Fair for inmates who are within 12 months of reentry to allow them to meet employers and financial and housing institutions. Due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, all 2020 fairs had to be canceled.
The DOC's Reentry Office worked with officials throughout the DOC to create a virtual version of the fair, and they chose to pilot it at Huntingdon.
"This fair is a testament to the creativity and determination of our employees," Wetzel said. "Our reentry staff knows the importance of these events, and rather than just let COVID-19 ruin this valuable opportunity for those in our facilities, they sought a solution.
"The individuals that participated are more likely to find success thanks to this virtual event."
Inmates were chosen based on their anticipated reentry dates and completion of reentry programming. They were assigned to classrooms based on their cohorts and continued to practice social distancing.
Organizations submitted videos for the inmates to watch ahead of the event before hosting a morning and afternoon virtual session with live presentations. Participants included Liberty Ministries, Flagger Force, Triangle Tech, PHFA, PACE, Veteran Services, White Deer Run, Small Business Administration and the Pennsylvania departments of Aging and Banking.
For security purposes, inmates could see and hear the presenters, while the presenters could not hear or see the inmates. Following the presentations, Huntingdon education staff typed questions on behalf of the inmates to directly ask the presenters for more information during a question-and-answer session.
After positive feedback from presenters and inmates alike, the DOC is now exploring the viability of a state-wide event to be held in December for all Pennsylvania state prisons.
"This project was only possible thanks to the collaboration between our reentry team, SCI Huntingdon's Education Department, our IT team and our community partners," Wetzel said. "After such a successful inaugural event, we're excited about the possibilities and hope to have more information on a state-wide event very soon."