For years, people who have been convicted of a crime found it difficult, if not impossible, to secure steady employment due to their record. Employers were particularly reluctant to hire individuals on probation. Since probationers experienced such difficulty in making a living with legitimate employment, many were forced to turn to illegal activities just to make ends meet, often landing them back to prison. New York City probation officers could not possibly provide each person with adequate attention, since each officer was responsible for at least 200 individuals. Meanwhile, many of New York City's small manufacturing and service firms were struggling to broaden their markets and expand their workforces, yet they still remained very hesitant to hire probationers.
In 1979, New York City Probation Commissioner Thomas L. Jacobs returned from a trip to London, where he witnessed a program that inspired him to provide greater employment opportunity for juvenile offenders in New York City. Jacobs fulfilled this vision by establishing Nova Ancora, a private, nonprofit corporation sponsored by the City's Department of Probation. The program matches unemployed probationers with small manufacturing and service firms that offer real opportunities for them to learn marketable job skills.
Across the City, devoted probation officers identify potential employment candidates from a pool which consists mostly of minority males, between the ages of 17 and 25. In order to qualify, the probationers cannot have any psychiatric or substance abuse problems, or pending court cases, and must have some employment history and be willing to work. Nova Ancora offers the candidates training focusing on resume writing, interviewing, vocational skills, and reading. Once they are hired, probation officers continue to work with employers to resolve problems that may arise on the job. Through training, the probationers gains self-confidence as well as economic stability, reducing the likelihood that they will return to criminal activity. Many of the participating businesses are minority-owned, and as a consequence, the proprietor also becomes a role model to his workers, a person to whom the probationers can relate and emulate.
Nova Ancora has effectively placed probationers in industries ranging from auto repairs to communications. Many probationers are becoming more active in community affairs and some have gained early discharge. Of those probationers participating in the program, the recidivism rate has remained notably low at approximately three percent for both 1985 and 1986, and 31 percent of program participants received promotions, returned to school, or obtained higher paying jobs in 1986. Probationers have reported that learning useful skills and becoming self supporting have changed the way they view themselves. One participant stated "I used to try to get respect from the kids on the street. That's what got me into trouble. Now I get my respect from my job and from [my employer]. I have respect for myself."