Life can be complicated, difficult and downright daunting when beginning the process of relocating, rebuilding or starting over. A number of factors must be considered, such as employment, housing, transportation and systems of support (to name just a few) in order to achieve a successful transition.
Research proves these potential obstacles are magnified when a person has a limited education, inadequate job skills and/or a troubled past. All too often, people in such scenarios experience multiple setbacks, leading to feelings of frustration, isolation and desperation that can spur poor decision-making, hindering their ability to pursue their desired life-change.
Breaking this cycle and improving the social and economic environment in Oklahoma are top priorities of our work at TEEM (The Education and Employment Ministry). TEEM is an interfaith nonprofit organization specializing in providing education, occupational training and job placement assistance to individuals in need of employment.
Equipping and empowering individuals with the proper skill set and knowledge to succeed makes a world of difference in decisions and life choices. By developing and honing skills necessary for self-sufficient living, the pathway out of poverty is far more easily traveled.
TEEM takes an inclusive approach by offering free services to anyone older than 18 who's willing to follow the guidelines of the program. Many variables prompt a person to join TEEM, such as the loss of a job, change in relationship, recovery from addition, relocation, or desire to pursue a different career.
Our organization also serves individuals who have been incarcerated. Oklahoma's high incarceration rates — No. 1 nationally in female incarceration and No. 3 in male incarceration — have state prisons busting at the seams. Oklahoma prisons routinely operate at or near capacity. This is an unsustainable trend, as proven by the Department of Corrections' recent announcement that the system is out of beds for female offenders.
The majority of women incarcerated in Oklahoma are nonviolent offenders who will be released into society. In fact, the average prison stay for nonviolent women is less than a year. But without proper support, accountability and opportunities upon release, many offenders repeat previous mistakes and continue on a merry-go-round in and out of prison, with longer stays behind bars upon each conviction.
Community organizations such as TEEM provide a positive network of support that pave the way for successful reentry, prevent reoffending and empower a person to be a productive citizen. Through effective collaboration with the faith community and other valuable community partners, the pieces of the puzzle can be put in place to end the perpetuating cycle connected to unsustainable incarceration rates. It's an approach that's just as tough and twice as smart on crime.
Education, prevention, intervention, treatment and support services provide cost-efficient opportunities that can lead to productive, successful results. Effective community based programs are a practical way to promote public safety, exercise fiscal responsibility and improve the future for generations to come.
Steele, the past speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, is executive director of TEEM.