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July 6, 2021

Federal aid boosts efforts to employ and reintegrate ex-offenders

PHOTO | Liese Klein Keisha Gatison, director of Project MOVE’s Re-Entry Welcome Center on Grand Ave., shows off the center’s technology accompanied by case manager Erick Dyson, at left.

If businesses are having difficulty hiring in the recent tight labor market, consider someone with some unusual life experience — time spent incarcerated.

That was part of the message Tuesday as city and state officials gathered to celebrate a new federal grant aimed at helping the formerly incarcerated return to society.

“Employers can just give somebody a fair shake,” said Bill Villano, president and CEO of Workforce Alliance. “Give people a chance.”

Workforce Alliance is one of the programs operating out of New Haven’s new Re-Entry Welcome Center at 830 Grand Ave., the site of a news conference on Tuesday celebrating a $1.4 million federal grant to help ex-offenders. Villano said his agency will use the money to help 150 adults transitioning from the New Haven Correctional Center to life in the area.

Operated by Project MORE, the Re-Entry Center has helped 70 people since it first opened in February to find jobs, get training and counseling and return to productive life, said Director Keisha Gatison. Gatison showed off the center’s computer systems and live-streaming capabilities used to help ex-offenders access job training and find employment.

More than 900 ex-offenders return to New Haven each year and nearly 60 percent re-offend, a trend Project MORE is trying to turn around. 

“We have a system that works,” Gatison said. “We are here to provide the services that are needed or access to the services that are needed.”

Reintegrating ex-offenders is key to fighting violence in the city, which has seen a sharp increase in shootings this year in tandem with national trends, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said. 

“It’s in all of our best interests but is also the ethical thing to do,” Elicker said. “We call ourselves a second-chance society, but how can anyone have a second chance when there’s barrier after barrier to someone finding a job, to someone finding housing.”

To stop the recent upsurge in violence, the city is increasing walking beats for police, doubling the number of street outreach workers, ramping up anti-violence efforts and pursuing the creation of an office of violence prevention at city hall, Elicker said. 

“This is all hands on deck,” said New Haven Police Chief Renee Dominguez, speaking of efforts to stop gun violence in the city. Focusing resources for ex-offenders at the Re-Entry Center helps strengthen outreach efforts toward that goal, she added. “We need everyone’s help.” 

Contact Liese Klein at

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