QUEENS, NY — A new program at Queens Public Library aims to help formerly incarcerated people put their best foot forward as they reenter society with easy access to smartphones and job training.
The program, called the “Immediate Access: Technology Re-entry Program,” will provide 75 former inmates with data-equipped smartphones, online resources and job training for two years.
In a news release, the library said the program aims to benefit parolees who have been imprisoned for decades, possibly since before smartphones made their way into the mainstream.
Those released during the coronavirus pandemic, the library said, face an even more difficult transition with fewer job opportunities.
The program will be administered by QPL, which has a trained team dedicated to helping people who have been involved with the justice system. The team helps the community obtain library cards, learn job skills, understand technology, gain literacy and find jobs.
Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott said the program is more important than ever as the coronavirus pandemic continues affecting jobless rates in New York City. The NYC department of labor estimated the city had a 14.1 percent unemployment rate in September, up from 3.7 percent a year prior.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made the transition from life inside a correctional facility to life on the outside especially challenging,” Walcott said in a statement.
The program was created as a joint initiative with Queens Defenders, which offers free legal representation to Queens County residents.
Lori Zeno, executive director of Queens Defenders said the program will give residents the tools to avoid future involvement with the justice system.
“This technology-focused initiative will help individuals re-establish themselves in the community as they aspire to lead productive lives free of further justice-system involvement,” Zeno said in a statement. “We look forward to sharing lessons learned so more individuals re-entering society from incarceration can benefit from the supports and access to technology offered through this program.”
The program is funded by a $330,000 federal grant offered to museums and libraries through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.