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A year ago, a local agency that provides job training and other services to ex-offenders was fighting for its very survival. Today, it's celebrating both the success of its mission and the stability of its once-shaky finances.
"We're in our best position ever," said Tony Hudson, executive director of Blue Jacket Inc., a not-for-profit organization that sprang from Allen County's Community Corrections program nine years ago. Last June, Hudson said the agency at 2826 S. Calhoun St. might have to close by the end of the year if it didn't raise $50,000, but a $250,000 bequest and other support have put the organization on solid fiscal ground despite its decision in 2013 to reject hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual federal grants – and the strings that came with them.
But Hudson may be even more pleased by other numbers: those demonstrating Blue Jacket's impact on the lives of the people it serves.
According to the Indiana Department of Correction, 42 percent of ex-inmates living in Allen County in 2009 returned to prison within two years. But in 2012, just 9 percent of Blue Jacket graduates returned to crime. Counting parole or probation violations, the organization's total recidivism rate was 17 percent, but that was still far below its own expectation of 31 percent.
Part of the reason for that, Hudson said, can be found in another statistic: an average 63 percent employment rate within three months of graduation from Blue Jacket's program. With Indiana's prison population projected to increase by at least 20 percent over the next three years, he added, post-release employment will be a major predictor of future success or failure.
"We often work with the hardest of the hardest to employ. These outcomes are a testament to the intense and empowering training Blue Jacket provides," Hudson said.
The agency works with about 350 people annually, and recently expanded its mission to include non-offenders, including the homeless, veterans and low-income residents. Blue Jacket's job-development program, Opportunity Staffing, is supported by employers that hire Blue Jacket graduates. The agency works with more than 30 other organizations and 40 local employers, and two years ago opened a clothing store to sell donated professional attire to underwrite the cost of its four-week training course.
Blue Jacket, named after a Shawnee chief who defeated Anthony Wayne in a 1794 battle, employs seven people, with an annual budget of about $800,000.
"At a time when we are being required to do more with less and the state is releasing more felons back into our community, the success of Blue Jacket enables us to better manage our scarce criminal justice resources," County Commissioner Nelson Peters said.
The secret to that success, however, may not be all that mysterious.
"We teach the middle-class work ethic," Hudson said. "And we don't just talk about it. We make them do it."