The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded United Way of Central Iowa’s Central Iowa Works a $1.8 million grant to support individuals returning from prison to become employed and avoid re-offending.

The grant will allow Central Iowa Works to launch the Central Iowa Returning Citizens Achieve (CIRCA) project and provide intensive case management to 201 people at higher risk for recidivism when returning from prison at four sites – Iowa Correctional Facility for Women in Mitchellville, Newton Correctional Facility, Fresh Start Women’s Center, and Fort Des Moines Community Corrections Center.

A win for employers

The grant will run through December 31, 2024 with the goal that 20 percent or fewer in the program will re-offend,
compared with the average recidivism rate of 35 percent.

The project will work with individuals to secure a job, with a focus on connecting people to jobs in construction, retail/food service, transportation distribution and logistics, and health care. Most participants will also receive additional education, including personal development training.

“This grant is a major opportunity to help employers connect with skilled workers who can fill needed jobs, in addition to helping those returning from prison receive greater support so they can successfully re-enter our community,” said Mary Sellers, president of United Way of Central Iowa. “We are looking forward to working with many partners to greatly expand our efforts in this area as a key strategy to help more families achieve financial stability.”

Each year, 5,000 citizens return to Iowa after serving time in state prisons. One year after release, 60 percent of people convicted of a crime are not employed, according to the National Institute of Justice. Most people released from prisons are re-arrested within three years, and 70 percent of children with an incarcerated parent will follow in their parent’s footsteps.

Good jobs are essential

“We know that having a job is essential for someone returning from prison to successfully re-enter our community,” said Amber Ramirez, director of Central Iowa Works. “Supporting these individuals in securing a good job and working through barriers to re-entering is vital to central Iowa’s efforts to reduce crime and help all individuals thrive.”

The work is based off a successful model in Texas that focuses on intensive case management for each individual in the program. Partners involved in the project include Dale Carnegie, Des Moines Area Community College, Drake Legal Clinic, Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families, Iowa Department of Corrections, Iowa Workforce Development, Project Iowa, St Vincent de Paul, and University of Iowa Labor Center. The U.S. Department of Labor is providing all the funding for the project.

United Way of Central Iowa is in the process of hiring a program manager and two reintegration specialists to support the work. Implementation will begin October 1.

For updates on the work, visit the CIRCA page: 

Learn More

About Central Iowa Works

Central Iowa Works, an initiative of United Way of Central Iowa, brings together employers and workers, public and private funding streams, and relevant partners to create and implement pathways to career advancement and employment. The No. 1 goal of Central Iowa Works is to close the skills gap and meet the needs of employers by helping them to recruit and hire qualified workers for jobs in central Iowa. At the same time, it strives to address the needs of job seekers by helping them get trained and hired for real jobs with pathways for growth.

Topics: Financial Stability, OpportUNITY, Thriving Workforce

Amber Ramirez

Written by Amber Ramirez

Amber Ramirez is the former Director of United Way of Central Iowa's Central Iowa Works.