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April 7, 2022

Former Inmates Now Equipped to Succeed

Break the cycle of incarceration — that is the goal of a collaborative partnership between Johnson County Community College, NCircle and the Johnson County Department of Corrections.

The three local organizations work in tandem to give clients in the Corrections system advocates and avenues to advance in a career that provides a good income and a healthy life. Community Corrections assists with job placement. Johnson County Community College provides skills training in a variety of high-demand fields— welding, construction, food service and information technology. NCircle, a local nonprofit led by Executive Director Lee Jost, coordinates the program, provides life skills for stable employment and serves as a bridge between Corrections and JCCC.

Mission Accomplished and Lives Improved

“JCCC’s Mission is to inspire learning to transform lives and strengthen communities … I think we have hit the bull's-eye.” – Debbie Rulo, Executive Director of JCCC Continuing Education

United Community Services of Johnson County recognized all three organizations with the 2021 UCS Excellence in Community Service Award (video). This award recognizes a human service organization or partnership that has significantly improved the lives of Johnson County residents.

“JCCC’s Mission is to inspire learning to transform lives and strengthen communities,” said Debbie Rulo, Executive Director of JCCC Continuing Education. “This partnership is on target to fulfilling the College’s mission; in fact, I think we have hit the bull's-eye.”

When barriers are lifted, formerly incarcerated citizens can reach their greatest potential. A successful semester-long pilot of the NCircle program, called the College of Trades, included three probation clients and three parole clients who live in Johnson County. The pilot made it possible for NCircle clients to complete required life skills courses and entry-level skilled trade courses through JCCC’s Continuing Education department.   

“JCCC is a premier higher ed institution in Kansas,” Jost said. “The partnership helps our community by making education and training accessible to a student population who would likely never attend.”

Rand Corporation research found that inmates who participate in correctional education programs like NCircle have 43% lower odds of returning to prison than those who do not. 

“This makes our community stronger and provides our returning citizens stable work and access to further their education,” Jost said. “Some of our students continue their education at JCCC beyond what NCircle offers.”

To cover associated costs, the JCCC Foundation established the Better Tomorrow Fund. The Foundation and NCircle also fund the salary for a transition coach. Federal CARES Act money has provided funds for supplies and basic tools, so grads are set to start their first jobs in demanding fields with new hope.

Pilot Project + Progress = Tax Savings

Reducing recidivism saves taxpayers money. A Vera Institute of Justice study shows it costs $191 a day to house an inmate in the Johnson County Jail. 

In 2021, out of 57 NCircle graduates:

  • 91% had no revocations
  • 96% had no new charges
  • 100% received no new convictions

The county reaps direct cost savings and revenue when formerly incarcerated citizens continue to earn money and pay taxes. Local nonprofits providing an existing staff to support clients also saves tax dollars.

“We have built a program that uses existing agencies and their strengths — County Corrections has a desire to see clients relaunch and not return to the system, JCCC has a passion to enhance human dignity by creating lifelong learners,” Jost said.

Local Companies Bring On the Power of Positivity

Local employers have already inquired and are eager to hire NCircle/JCCC graduates. More than 114 individuals have worked through the program since May 2019. Fortunately, the pandemic didn’t cause too much upheaval as many online classes were able to be completed.

Data is being gathered about skills needed for local jobs. JCCC is hopeful that additional programs can be built in collaboration with NCircle based on economic needs.

“Without doubt, the program is changing the lives of individuals by giving them a chance to learn a trade and obtain a job with a livable wage,” Rulo said. “So many businesses need workers right now, and NCircle graduates are filling those positions.”

Andrew’s Aspirations: A Welding Career

Andrew Anderson, NCircle client, graduated from a welding certification course after testing out of a computer/literacy skills course. He plans to find a job in welding and further his training with more certifications.

“When I first started these classes, I knew they would be a game-changer for someone like me,” Andrew said. “With my criminal record and background, I need any help I can get.  I saw a chance to show myself and the people whose opinions I care about that I could do something good with myself and my life. I jumped on it.”

Andrew called Jost “a godsend of a human.” “Without him none of us would have had this opportunity to further ourselves,” Andrew said. “He is incredible and inspiring. I'm extremely thankful for the opportunity I've been given.”

Sanford’s Success: Flooring Company Owner

Sanford Willis connected with NCircle and JCCC in 2019. He now owns and operates a hardwood flooring company. His business was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic; however, it’s going strong again. Last year he earned a forklift certification and gained culinary training through the College of Trades. His culinary credentials qualified him for a part-time job at one of the area’s most popular sit-down restaurants. This supplemental income is helping Sanford reach even more personal goals.

My experience with NCircle has been both awesome and super helpful in relation to my vocational aspirations,” said Sanford.

With this new lease on life, Sanford is always striving to improve himself and make his skills marketable. Getting certified as a personal trainer is his next endeavor.

“I’m always looking for new ways to make myself more marketable,” he said. “And be prepared for any possible changes to our economy. I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity afforded me by NCircle and the funding others have provided.”

Fund a Better Tomorrow!

Make a difference in your community. Help students like Andrew and Sanford reach their greatest potential and donate to the JCCC Foundation Better Tomorrow Fund. For many, tomorrow starts today!