TOWN OF ROCK

The criminal offenders sat in a small classroom on the Rock Valley Community Programs campus Wednesday night.

Trainer Verlice Dumas role-played with one of the former inmates, who pretended to be a work supervisor accusing Dumas’ character of stealing money.

“I know you know something about this money,” the man said threateningly.

“No, I don’t know anything about it,” Dumas replied.

Breaking character, Dumas told the group: “My heart is pounding. My pulse is racing. I’m going to sit down and take a breath. I don’t want to lose this job, but my risk reaction is to quit.”

The point of the exercise was to help the offenders think through problems instead of impulsively making a wrong choice. It was part of a course called Thinking for a Change, developed by the National Institute of Corrections.

They also discuss and practice ways to communicate with loved ones or employers without getting into trouble.

Dumas, who has been teaching the course for two years, said a key turning point is when the offenders learn to think of the feelings of others and not just their own.

“It’s all about helping them come up with new ways of thinking,” Dumas said during a break.

The offenders get 40 hours a week of classes for 90 to 120 days, depending on their needs. The intent is to equip them to return to society.

Now, a new grant will expand what Rock Valley can offer them.

The halfway house has received a federal grant of nearly $1 million to give local offenders a better chance of getting jobs and avoiding lives of crime.

Rock Valley Community Programs, 203 W. Sunny Lane between Janesville and Beloit, will begin the job-focused program sometime around Jan. 1, said Angel Eggers, executive director.

The program each year will help about 50 people, some housed at the 115-bed Rock Valley facility and some who live in the community and are on probation or extended supervision after a prison sentence, Eggers said.

The program will take only those deemed at medium or high risk to commit another crime. Such people typically have poor work histories and employment skills, Eggers said.

The offenders will learn how to write resumes, answer questions about their criminal histories and to be successful employees, Eggers said.

“The (Rock County) Job Center is amazing and has lots of services, but this (new program), being focused on offenders who are entering the community, that’s huge because there’s a gap in services for something this intensive,” Eggers said.

The grant from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance will provide $947,512 over three years for Project EMPLOY, which will help the former inmates find family-sustaining jobs and housing.

Services could include case management and counseling to address criminal thinking.

The money will pay salaries of a project manager, employment specialist and case manager, Eggers said.

The employment specialist will help clients get work-ready and find jobs, Eggers said.

Money also will be available to help with employment needs such as work boots, eyeglasses and transportation, and it will buy 15 computers for use in finding jobs and taking online courses.

Services will be individualized based on needs. They include outpatient behavioral health services, transitional housing for veterans experiencing homelessness and residential crisis stabilization for those experiencing a mental health crisis, according to a news release.

The goal will be to get the clients into long-term employment or taking vocational courses, Eggers said, adding that Blackhawk Technical College has reached out and could become a partner in the effort.

“The more tools and supports we can provide,” Eggers said, “the better their chances are.”

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