In its first year, WorkKeys program opens doors for 22 inmates seeking a new start

An inmate at the Centre County Correctional Facility work through the WorkKeys program on Wednesday.
An inmate at the Centre County Correctional Facility work through the WorkKeys program on Wednesday. adrey@centredaily.com

Since the Centre County Correctional Facility implemented the WorkKeys skills assessment program last January, inmates are re-entering society with a program certificate that improves their viability and boosts their self-pride.

Through the computer-based assessment and educational program, Centre County inmates are using the WorkKeys program to prepare for entering the workforce upon release. The program also gives potential employers an indication of the applicants’ readiness for the workforce.

In 2014, the Centre County Board of Commissioners, Prison Board and Criminal Justice Advisory Board began the process of integrating the program into the county’s re-entry strategic plan.

The boards researched options to help prepare inmates for their transition into society and they discovered a program similar to WorkKeys in Lancaster County, said Michael Pipe, board of commissioners chairman.

After developing the idea and creating the infrastructure to operate the program, Pipe said the commissioners approved WorkKeys and the program began at CCCF in January 2016.

Since the program began, 22 inmates have received the certificate, said Chris Schell, deputy warden of administration at CCCF, who oversees WorkKeys. He believes completion of the program demonstrates an inmate’s desire to avoid recidivism.

“It shows that people inside the institution want to better themselves for re-entry,” Schell said. “To help them, we want to make sure we are offering them something that gives them a step up.”

CCCF has minimum-, medium- and maximum-security detention areas that hold alleged offenders throughout the court process. If the offender is convicted, only those who are sentenced to fewer than two years stay at CCCF. When his or her sentence begins, the inmate is encouraged by the staff to enter the program.

If an inmate elects to join the WorkKeys program, he or she is given an entry assessment test by Marianne Taylor, project facilitator at Central Intermediate Unit No. 10, an educational development center for adults.

Based on the results, Taylor enters the inmate into the seven-level program at his or her competency level.

Once a week, five men and five women meet on different days to progress through the levels. The program educates and tests proficiency in applied mathematics, locating information and reading for information. As an inmate approaches level seven, he or she can elect to take the final assessment.

The inmate can earn a platinum, gold, silver or bronze certificate. The certificate earned is not an average. The lowest scored section dictates the certificate level. CCCF consistently scores in the gold and silver range and has yet to have an inmate earn a bronze, Schell said.

More than 140 businesses in central Pennsylvania and almost 50 in Centre County endorse the certificate and recognize the potential employee’s value to their workforce, Schell said.

“It’s great that we have this many companies that endorse the program,” Schell said. “When we counsel the inmates to enter the program, having over 40 businesses on the list shows them that this will give them an advantage.”

The program presents inmates with an opportunity to “get a leg up” in the workforce, but the effect of WorkKeys on the inmates goes well beyond being becoming a more viable employee, Schell said.

“This is about self-pride, and I see it when they receive the certificate. They know it’s going to make them a better person,” Schell said. “Obviously they’re inmates, but most importantly they’re people first.”

Leon Valsechi: 814-231-4631, @leon_valsechi