It’s the Jobs, Stupid!

“This is really important because if they can’t get employment, they can’t get housing, so the first thing they’re going to do is go back to the streets and sling drugs.” (Ex-offender now serving as Director of a private Michigan re-entry program)

A couple of political campaigns back, the slogan “It’s the Economy, Stupid” was widely and effectively used as political hay to accentuate perhaps the biggest worry of the voters, and to thereby help convert this particular concern to favorable votes. Though an imperfect analogy, “It’s the Jobs, Stupid” accentuates what many authorities believe to be the biggest worry and problem facing an inmate about to become an ex-offender. And, to their credit, growing numbers of public and private entities have seen this need, and are doing something about it because, clearly, job availability is the path and key to reduced recidivism. With that comes solutions to the twin issues of prison overcrowding and dwindling budgets. And from the human perspective, jobs provide the first step toward rebuilding a career and a life.

Why is it hard for ex-offenders to find a job; why do they face prejudice in the job application process? Potential employers that may fear becoming a victim of repeat crimes is one obvious reason. Another is that the applicants may have never had a chance to learn skills necessary for fruitful employment. However, a more logical employer concern is that they are aware that jury verdicts have rendered large awards against employers for negligently hiring people with criminal histories who subsequently caused harm to others while on the job. So it’s imperative that there be organized efforts to truly support inmates in their quest to find work on release. Re-entry programs must stress job placement above all.

Following are just three examples of the many diverse efforts underway to help secure jobs for felons exiting prisons.

Randall County, TX
The Sheriff of Randall County stated that “The ability to earn a living is one of the most important factors in predicting if someone is going to be a success after leaving prison.”
The county’s Prisoner Re-entry Education Program not only teaches inmates the value of having a work ethic, but it also educates potential employers on the value of participating in the program.

Ex-offenders in the program work six months for the county and six months with an employer under case management. The jobs are not necessarily skilled jobs, but they’re guaranteed for six months. A participating employer knows that their participating work force is one that shows up, that’s not high on drugs, that didn’t get drunk the night before, and that they will be there on time ready to go to work.

Frederick County, MD
Goodwill Industries of Monocacy Valley, Inc. has developed a program that offers re-entry job-retention and transitional services to prisoners in an effort to reduce Frederick County’s prison recidivism rate, which was 51.7 percent in 2008. In partnership with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Goodwill provides computer training and life skills workshops to 130 inmates at the Work Release Center. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), while visiting there, stated “Goodwill has succeeded working with prisoners and former inmates to get them the skills and job training they need to become productive members of our society.”

Senator Cardin ought to know. He was a co-sponsor of the Second Chance Act, which when enacted into law provided increased funding to coordinate re-entry services by federal agencies, and also authorized $330 million in federal funding for FY2009 and FY2010 for both state and federal re-entry programs.

Richmond, VA
While there are no recent news reports of Virginia jobs programs in action, a former state attorney general and gubernatorial candidate, Mark Earley, has proposed taking funding away from correctional facilities, and using it instead to help cut down the recidivism rate. One unique way he proposes to use the monies is to provide inmates with a volunteer mentor to help in the search for a job, as well as housing. The mentor would also help the ex-offender acclimate to life as a free citizen. Earley puts a finger on the importance of this acclimation when he points out: “The average prison inmate makes about 3 choices a day; the average free citizen makes about 4000.” The mentor’s advice would obviously support this traumatic transition.

Interested in following the nation’s latest re-entry and recidivism action? Stay tuned to The-Slammer for authoritative guest commentaries and concise editorial updates.

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  • Thomas K said:

    Post to 09-26-06

    You ask “Why is it hard for ex-offenders to find a job; why do they face prejudice in the job application process?” and your reasons why are certainly valid. Meaningful employment is of the utmost importance in allowing ex-offenders to return to society as useful, productive members. Meaningful employment is, at least in part, the answer to reducing the recidivism rate not to mention the tremendous savings to the taxpayer. However until there is legislation passed that allows ex-offenders a means of clearing their record, release from prison is still prison as long as the stigma of their past performance is allowed to be broadcast to any and all who choose to inquire.

    This is especially true with those who have been convicted of a felony and even more so for those convicted of a Federal Felony. Many states have processes in place whereby the ex-offender may apply for expunction of their record.

    There is and has been for the last eight years, legislation introduced to congress that would offer relief at the federal level. The current version is H.R. 1529 the “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2009.” This legislation was first introduced in 2000 by Congressman Rangel and re-introduced in every session since. Each time it has died in committee and, even though he re-introduced it this year, Rangel appears to have abandoned the bill and supporters have been able to get no one, from Rangel to John Conyers to Bobby Scott to respond to inquiries. This bill is no “free ride”, it only allows the ex-offender the opportunity of applying to the court for consideration.
    For more information on H.R. 1529 or any other legislation, see the Library of Congress site or visit Yahoo Groups