There are many misconceptions about people who have spent time in the criminal justice system. A big one is: Not my neighborhood, not in my backyard.
Alvis, which provides reentry treatment programs, serves nearly 8,000 men, women, young adults and children in Ohio each year. President and CEO Denise M. Robinson says they work in all neighborhoods — poor, middle class and affluent — and their clients include the doctors, lawyers and professionals that you may not expect.
“We do a lot of marketing. We do a lot of showing up. We go out and talk to employers, No. 1, but also just communities in which our clients are going back to or where they came from,” Robinson says.
Once someone has served their time, Alvis wants to help him or her become a contributing citizen again.
“So many times there are misconceptions, there are fears about the population — that people have broken the law and they should go to prison and never be seen again,” she says.
But it’s important to help them find a paying job and reunite them with their families, because their actions affect more than just themselves.
“When people commit crimes, they take the primary wage earner out of the community and all of sudden you start seeing poverty go further and further in the gutter,” Robinson says.
Kids are often affected by a parent’s incarnation, not getting the education they need, as well as other problems that bubble up in the whole community.
A positive contribution
Over its 50 years in existence — Robinson has been part of the nonprofit for 32 of those years — Alvis has expanded outside of Columbus to four other cities. The nonprofit has about 550 staff members and annual revenue of $30 million.
Robinson says wherever there’s a need, the organization has been able to step up — and people come to Alvis for help because of the outcomes it has been able to generate.
The national average rate of recidivism is 44 percent, but 79 percent of clients who completed the Alvis program three years earlier remain out of the criminal justice system.
A lot of that has to do with workforce development programs such as orientation, assessment, job readiness training and certification.
About 400 employers have hired Alvis clients because of the support the organization is able to provide, with a case manager holistically following each person.
The nonviolent offenders can live at Alvis facilities, but everyone who comes through the workforce development program has to overcome gaps in employment, as well as possibly a lack of work experience, substance abuse issues or a lack of transportation.
“The biggest barrier that we work on with our clients is the prejudice that many employers have about hiring people that have been involved in the criminal justice system, but Alvis’ response to the barrier is we make our clients more attractive to potential employers because we increase their skills,” Robinson says.
Alvis also prescreens the applicants and does routine drug testing.
While Alvis has developed its expertise down to a science, there are still challenges like how to provide more treatment services for the rise in opiate addiction.
“We do assessments on every person that walks through our door, and when they walk through the door and we do that assessment and we see how many people fall within a certain criteria, then we realize, OK, we need to put more resources here,” she says.
Alvis responds to needs, and because of that, a lot of resources go to substance abuse treatment right now.
“But you can’t let the other things go by the wayside, either. So, in my job, I’m always seeking new opportunities to be able to provide services for our clients,” Robinson says.
That can mean pooling resources. The Franklin County Reentry Coalition, which includes nonprofits, legislators, judges and city officials, comes together to talk about the issues, the needs of the population and how to provide resources, she says.
Another collaboration Alvis is a part of is Restoration Academy. The academy, started by former Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman, takes people who have been in the criminal justice system, trains them and then hires them to work for the city. The program has continued under the new mayor but it’s no longer just Columbus hiring the trainees.
Whether it provides its services directly or through partnerships, one thing the organization knows is that it’s doing good work. There’s a reason Alvis has gone from one small halfway house to more than 40 locations across the state.