Operation Restoration Offers a Community of Support and Resources for Women Impacted by Incarceration

Syrita Steib
Photo source: Operation Restoration

Operation Restoration is an organization that was founded in 2016 by Syrita Steib with the goal to build a community and support system for women impacted by incarceration through education.

Through Operation Restoration (OR), women who were incarcerated can receive an education that will benefit them in the outside world. In addition, OR empowers these women with the tools to build a career and make a life for themselves as they embark on the next chapter of their lives.

Steib, herself is a formerly incarcerated woman who created Operation Restoration when she realized there weren’t many resources that specifically catered to women who were leaving the prison system. She found that many essential resources she needed were unavailable to her, or she wasn’t aware of where to obtain them.

During her transition into life outside of the system, Steib found what helped her was meeting with other formerly incarcerated women who had begun building new lives for themselves. 

“I wanted to provide and create a space where women didn’t have to feel insecure about questions they might have,” Steib said. “I wanted to create a safe environment where women are guided on their journey and know that someone will be walking the path with them.”

People enter into Operation Restoration through social services or the community bail fund, which posts bail for individuals who cannot post bail for themselves. Potential participants go through an assessment in which it is determined where their insecurities, such as housing, childcare, or food, lie.

“We identify those issues and provide services either within our organization or outside of the organization,” Steib explained. “We have fifteen programs that people can qualify for, depending on their needs.”

Such programs include those who need housing, education, arts, and advocacy. Participants can also receive vocational training and higher education at Delgado Community College or through the School of Professional Advancement at Tulane University. 

The programs are meant to eliminate as many barriers as possible.

One specific program that is offered is the Lab Assistant Rapid Reskilling Program, in which participants are equipped with the knowledge and skills to become certified medical laboratory assistants. Steib implemented the program after being named a Fellowship for the Future 2021 Fellow by 500 Women Scientists. Steib, a licensed and certified clinical laboratory scientist, and Operation Restoration are founding partners in the national STEM-OPS network that promotes science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning opportunities in prisons.

The hybrid program is offered both in-person and online. In-person students are provided with transportation and childcare while they are in the program. Students taking the course online are supplied with a computer and a hotspot so that they have access to the internet. 

Steib created the lab program because, working as a supervisor in a hospital, she was aware of the shortage that labs were facing. She also explained that clinical laboratory programs are limited in this area; only five schools across the state offer this particular program. The job is essential in every hospital and the shortage of lab techs isn’t just an issue in Louisiana—it’s a nationwide problem.

Steib said, “You can get a two-year or four-year degree to work in the lab. It’s a dying profession, but it’s an essential profession. Unfortunately, I think that Covid-19 exacerbated the shortage of lab personnel.”

Steib returned to the lab to help process the backlog. That experience emphasized the need for more lab assistants and reinforced her vision for providing women with employable skills after incarceration. 

“The start of the program came out of necessity,” she said. “It provides a sustainable career so that people can take care of their families. We began working with hospitals, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners, and LSU Health and Science Center.”

One of the programs is a six-week incentive training in which participants go to school five days a week and complete a required checklist to become licensed lab assistants in the State of Louisiana. Another program in the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women is for women who are preparing for release. This nine-month program provides classes through Delgado Community College and introduces these women to college courses. When these participants are released, they will have the opportunity to be licensed lab assistants and receive immediate employment.

You can donate to Operation Restoration here.

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