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Inmates get access to CareerLink system

July 02, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County's eighth Team Pennsylvania CareerLink access point is in a place where there's a ready population of unemployed and underemployed people - the work release building at the Franklin County Prison.

"The biggest problem with the population is underemployment," Warden John Wetzel said Tuesday at the opening of the satellite facility, the first state job center to open in a county prison. "Adequate employment reduces criminal behavior. There's countless pieces of research on that."

Each day, about 140 inmates are eligible for the work release program, which is run by the probation department, Wetzel said. Most of those are serving relatively short sentences for nonviolent crimes.

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The CareerLink access point will give those inmates a way to explore job opportunities and improve job skills while serving time, according to Wetzel.

"What this is all about is finding a way for people to put their lives back together," said G. Warren Elliott, chairman of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners. "We want them to find jobs- family-sustaining jobs."

Inmates will be able to create online resumes, connect with employers and search and apply for job openings over the computer, according to Michelle Weller, a treatment counselor at the prison. Inmates also will be able to get information about job training, skill assessment, aptitude testing and other specialized services.

"We're going to give people skills like how to fill out a resume, how to act at a job interview, how to dress for an interview," said Wetzel of the counseling aspect of the program.

As far as computer skills, Wetzel did not think using the system would be a problem for most prisoners.

"This is the Game Boy and Nintendo generation," he said. "Everyone knows how to use a computer at this point."

"A lot of it is pretty self-explanatory," according to Weller, who said she will be able to give individual instruction to inmates having difficulty with the system.

Wetzel said Franklin County edged out Berks County to become the first county prison with a CareerLink station.

"I think this one will probably be used 10 times more than the other seven," said Wes Cool, director of the CareerLink center in Franklin County.

The other CareerLink centers are in high schools in Greencastle and Chambersburg, the Alexander Hamilton Library in Waynesboro, Penn State Mont Alto's satellite campus in Chambersburg Mall, the Franklin County Career and Technology Center, Wilson College and the Thompson Institute, a vocational school in Chambersburg.

Wetzel said putting a satellite in the prison made sense, but there were "a few hoops" to go through.

"We talked in January and now it's July," he said.

"Part of the law says to have a CareerLink access point, it has to be open to the public," Cool said. He said his argument to the Workforce Investment Board for South Central Pennsylvania was that prisoners are part of the public.

"It's composed of people who need employees, both in the private and public sector," Commissioner Cheryl Plummer said of the board. She is a member of the South Central Employment Corporation, the entity that receives and distributes federal funding for employment service programs in an eight-county region that includes Franklin County.

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