‘Clean Start’ program provides inmates a pathway to employment

More from this show

Maricopa County’s justice system is trying something new to cut down on recidivism and help convicted criminals re-enter society.

The Clean Start is a program for women that allows 30 inmates to work at the county jail laundry facility. In addition to learning how to work in a professional environment, program participants are taught how to conduct themselves in job interviews, how to write resumes and other job skills.

Jeannie Reardon, program administrator for Arizona@Work, says it’s crucial to reach out to these women because of the difficulties they face in obtaining jobs once they are released. “We purposely target people that have barriers to employment,” said Reardon, “these are women who have shown a desire to work but they are faced with multiple barriers.”

Elizabeth Willyerd has been in and out of jail since she was 18. Now at age 30, she realized she needed to make a change and Clean Start is helping her.

“When I am folding laundry, I do think about next steps of what I am going to do next and really how I can better myself in any kind of way,” said Willyard. “I think about my kids what I can get them when I can afford it.”

Clean Start also helps graduates of the program find jobs at hotels and call centers in Phoenix.

Reporter: Inside the county jail laundry facility, piles of towels are washed sorted and folded. These women are getting a clean start as well. The program serves 6,000 people on probation in Maricopa County. Women like Elisabeth. I have been in and out of jail since I was 18. Barely 30 years old with several felonies on her record, she's ready to move forward. I’m tired of it, the life of hurting my kids. I have almost died four times and i keep getting brought back. There’s a reason for that. Elisabeth is like many here, struggling to break the struggle of crime. My kids are 9 and 11. They are pretty much adults, had to be -- already. i put them through a lot. When Elisabeth’s probation officer recommended her for clean start, she jumped at the chance to have a job. To find work with a felony on your record is pretty -- almost impossible. I’m getting kids without a job. It’s damn near impossible. Clean start is a way to reduce recidivism rates and help women struggling emotionally and financially on probation. They are considered medium to high risk of going back to incarceration, so these are not the people that are the easiest to serve. I want that job. The end goal is to give them a work experience to put on their resume to teach them to better market themselves and transition into permanent employment. The program lasts 12 weeks. The women work 40 hours a week in the laundry facility. They run the different machines here. There is a bit of shipping and receiving, warehousing, there is housekeeping. The women are responsible for the uniforms they wore in jail. I look at a different perspective. It’s work. It’s getting me to get up every day, go to work. I can pay my bills. Shawna has been on probation several years. Like Elisabeth, she has struggled finding employers to accept her and her record. When they ask for your record and see what you did as a felon, they won't take you. Once they were released, they had no incentive to stay out. Clean start is a way to tackle economic security as a way of life for these women. They receive placement at valley companies and hotel. It’s been a challenge but once they do, they recognize how determine the women are to succeed. We had an employer recently with a participate from the clean start program. They said I don't need to interview you if you are coming from clean start. We want to hire you. A study by the U.S. department of justice revealed 65% of employers would not hire someone with a prison record. That’s why it's crucial to provide more than just job skills. Teaching the women to explain their past to an employer is just as important. We have things in our background we may not be excited about, but there is a need. There is a desire. They are human and they have families. This is our community. For the women, understanding their past is not what designs them. It’s how they get their clean start. I’m getting past this. I’m getting clean and staying clean, getting a job and keeping it. I’m proud of myself. The next group of clean start participants will graduate in November.
Ted Simons: Thursday on Arizona horizon, and we'll hear about free speech on college campuses from noted 1st-amendment attorney Floyd Abrams. That’s Thursday on Arizona horizon. That is it for now. I’m Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

The four men of Il Divo
airs June 2

Il Divo XX: Live from Taipei

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Super Why characters

Join a Super Why Reading Camp to play, learn and grow

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: