In 2018, Massachusetts passed legislation representing the most significant changes to the state’s criminal justice system in decades. Since then, the state has solidified and expanded those investments to reduce recidivism during its annual budget process, providing substantial funding for programs that will make a difference in the lives of people serving on probation and parole.
UTEC, a Lowell-based organization that focuses on reentry, has received nearly $2 million in funding over the past two years to create a transitional employment program for young people at a high risk of reoffending. In partnership with the state’s probation system, UTEC offers young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 paid work experience through three social enterprises—mattress recycling, food services, and woodworking—that are designed to help them develop the necessary skills to thrive in the workplace.
Skills like accountability, positive communication, and teamwork are emphasized during employment at UTEC Mattress Recycling. Participants develop culinary and hospitality skills during their work at UTEC’s food service facilities, and they learn basic design and construction principles at UTEC’s Woodworking business.
Participants in the program connect with UTEC at the beginning of their probation period and receive ongoing case management and wraparound supports throughout their involvement in the program, which lasts at least two years. UTEC also provides access to mental health and substance use counseling, parenting workshops, and free childcare. The program serves young adults in Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill.
While UTEC has recently been forced to reduce on-site programming due to unprecedented challenges amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the organization is striving to remain creative and relentless in the delivery of programs and services for the young adults it serves.
For example, UTEC has distributed Chromebooks from its classrooms to young adults for use at home to facilitate online learning opportunities and workforce certifications. The organization also delivers boxes of groceries, prepared meals, cleaning supplies, and materials for the children of its participants (diapers, wipes, and activity packets).
“UTEC will continue to work closely with the state to ensure these young adults receive the support and skills they need to take advantage of the second chance they’ve received,” said Croteau.
Photos courtesy of UTEC