A Second Chance for Ex-Offenders

Dr. Darrell Miller started his professional journey in financial and facilities management.

Dr. Miller headshot
Dr. Darrell Miller at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, where he is a teacher and supervisor

But he discovered early on that the corporate life was just not fulfilling, and he felt a need to use his talents to help disadvantaged people.

This sense of mission initially led him to serve children with special education needs. He then worked as community coordinator for the New York City Department of Homeless Services. Eventually, Dr. Miller started working in the Delaware prison system, where he found his true calling — giving ex-offenders a second chance — in his current role supervising teachers and educational programs for inmates at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington.

As part of that journey, Dr. Miller decided to pursue a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree at Wilmington University to build advanced skills in leadership and management. “The DBA program helped me develop critical thinking and decision-making skills to better understand competition in adult education,” says Dr. Miller. “And, most importantly for the correctional setting, to learn how to persuasively articulate complex ideas.”

Dr. Miller brings compassion, respect for people in all walks of life, and a calm, levelheaded and practical approach to stressful situations. He is a problem solver with a rare ability to bridge the concerns of parties with different agendas to develop workable solutions. He cares deeply about inmates, ex-offenders, the prison teachers he supervises, as well as volunteers, and he is always looking for ways to more effectively prepare inmates for productive lives after their release.

His work is essential because the state of Delaware every month releases more than 100 ex-offenders from Level 5, a level serious-enough to require 24-hour incarceration. According to Dr. Michael Grossman, education associate for Adult and Prison Education at the Delaware Department of Education (DOE), another way to look at the magnitude of this problem is that more than 90 percent of inmates will eventually be released. If these ex-offenders are not able to find jobs, they’re at high risk for recidivism and re-incarceration.

Sadly, a recent report published by the state of Delaware revealed that 45 percent of inmates were back in prison within one year. In December 2018, Gov. John Carney recognized the urgent need to change this pattern by creating the Delaware Correctional Reentry Commission to take a comprehensive approach to address the problem.

It is heartening to Dr. Miller to see the emphasis the state is putting on reentry programs. Although he has made many training improvements based on evolving vocational opportunities and inmates’ needs and goals, he recognizes that training is only the beginning of the reintegration process. The challenges during re-entry are complex, and there’s a need to build bridges between agencies, employers and support groups.

Fortunately, the new commission provides a vehicle to facilitate such partnerships. In particular, two aspects of the Executive Order directly address ex-offender employment challenges: a new Department of Labor policy on skills training and employment and an employer incentive program.

Because employers form the linchpin for successful re-entry partnerships, Dr. Miller focused his DBA research on understanding the level of concern that employers have regarding employing ex-offenders, and what measures might increase their willingness to hire. Looking specifically at ex-offenders with drug convictions, Dr. Miller found that employers in target industries had relatively low reservations, which could be overcome by referrals from trusted individuals, organizations or systems.

These insights offer a promising path forward: fostering partnerships between re-entry organizations, staffing agencies, industry and vocational organizations, adult schools, work release sites and libraries. This recommendation is getting positive feedback from decision-makers in Delaware and prison education professionals in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Such partnerships are supported by the Delaware Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and the Delaware DOE Automotive Technology Advisory Committee. For example, the latter committee has played an active role in supporting DOE training for inmates who are candidates for automotive repair employment. Peter Rudloff, chair of the automotive advisory committee, notes,

“There are minor risks, but there have also been successes. It is rewarding when ex-offenders establish new lives.”

Longer term, Dr. Miller is looking at ways to leverage partnerships to establish systems for credible referrals, including feedback mechanisms to guide performance improvement. In the meantime, he will continue to support inmates as they pursue their second chances — one inmate at a time.
—Ruth Norman