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Tuesday, October 4, 2022
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‘CompTIA’ and ‘GEM’ Partner to Assist Formerly-Incarcerated Women

Featured, Lifestyle

GEM summer camp. | Image from GEM Newsroom

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Incarcerated women have a special place in Brittany Barnett’s heart because when she was a young adult, her mother was incarcerated.  

“I saw firsthand the devastation that mass incarceration causes and when I visited my mother in prison, I saw how many women are incarcerated,” Barnett told Dallas Express. “They are the fastest-growing incarcerated population and a supermajority of those women are mothers.”  

Barnett, who holds a law degree from Southern Methodist University (SMU) Dedman School of Law, founded the Dallas-based Girls Embracing Mothers, Inc. (GEM) nine years ago.  

“I was 22 when my mother went to prison and that experience motivated me,” Barnett said in an interview. “We’re really just working to enrich the lives of those most marginalized and break the cycle of incarceration. We’re hopeful that people in the Dallas community will link arms with us and help us to advance justice.”  

Nationwide, some 7.6 million people are released from prison yearly every year, but two out of three are arrested again within three years, and more than fifty percent are incarcerated again, according to data from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion 

“Formerly incarcerated women in Dallas face many struggles,” Barnett said in an interview. “Employment being number one. Challenges in getting housing. Challenges in obtaining transportation. On top of just the stigma that comes with being formerly incarcerated, there are issues that are wide-ranging as it relates to re-entry. Women, in particular, are typically the primary caregivers of their children when they are incarcerated.”  

In addition to working with women who have been incarcerated, GEM tries to empower their daughters who have been impacted by maternal incarceration.  

“Through our program with the Texas women’s prisons, we take their daughters to visit them every single month and have enhanced visits where we are in a room to ourselves with the mom and daughter,” Barnett added. “We bring food and eat lunch with the moms and do art therapy. We always cover the curriculum that revolves around critical life issues between the daughters and their incarcerated mothers.”   

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), a trade association for the global Information Technology (IT) industry, had been looking for an organization to partner with to specifically assist individuals like the mothers who participate in GEM programming.  

“The partnership with Girls Embracing Mothers got started because of our desire to try to solve what we see as a big societal problem of so many people having been incarcerated but not able to find great pathways into work,” said Charles Eaton, executive vice president for social innovation and CEO of Creating IT Futures, the CompTIA philanthropic group. “We came across Girls Embracing Mothers and had a partner organization of ours connect us with Brittany Barnett who runs the organization. We are enamored with what she does.”  

IT employment in the United States reached an estimated 12.1 million workers, capping a decade in which the country’s tech-related workforce expanded by 2.3 million jobs, according to Cyberstates 2020™, which is published every year by CompTIA.  

“We have such incredible talent need,” Eaton told Dallas Express. “There are so many open positions in technology right now across the US. At any given quarter, there’s 800,000 to a million openings, so we need to be more receptive to people who may have made a mistake at some point in their life. That mistake cannot hold them back from future opportunities because we need the talent as a country. The companies absolutely need them.”   

Through the partnership, ten women are currently receiving an enhanced education and training in employability and life skills, with the ultimate aim of helping them secure jobs in the technology field.  

“We’re giving them each a stipend every month so that they don’t have to work and they can focus on this training,” Eaton said in an interview. “We’re extending it for about six months. If they get jobs before that, they won’t need the stipend, but we’re extending the program six months because we know that when you have that felony conviction, there are some companies that may be more hesitant to hire. So, we’ve got to engage with employers to help them understand how valuable these women will be in their talent pipeline.”  

Because GEM has been working with the prison population for nine years, Barnett was able to identify ten candidates for the program quickly. “We looked at mothers who were released in the Dallas area and who were interested in a new career path,” Barnett said.   

The customized technical training delivered through the CompTIA Custom Training is centered on CompTIA A+, a professional certification of core technology skills that is the industry standard for beginning a career in IT in help desk, service desk, technical support, and related jobs.  

“We’re actually training the moms and providing some of our tech curriculum to their daughters who are within the right age groups,” Eaton said. “We want to continue this but this is our pilot to understand what the barriers might be, how well these women work, and how well can they learn because some of them have been away from technology while they were incarcerated and things have changed quite a bit.”  

Obstacles include the stigma of incarceration. “There’s so much hidden talent that the justice system has impacted,” Eaton said. “We just need to be more understanding that people can be rehabilitated and understand the mistakes they’ve made. They want opportunities.”  

Although there are challenges, Eaton is confident the ten women his organization are training can meet the challenges once they complete the program.  

“Having met all the women, I see that they want to do this,” he said. “They are five weeks into the program and not a single one of them has dropped out or missed a day. Having drive and desire is critical to all of this and they are showing it. So we should, as a country, show respect and put people in situations to succeed who show that drive and desire.”  

Business owners interested in employing program graduates are asked to contact GEM 

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