Many major cities around the country have proposals in front of council members requesting grant bonus tax abatements to companies that agree to hire people with criminal histories. States are attempting to expand prison training programs meant to ‘reduce the revolving doors that we so often see in our prison system’. This could include an expansion of existing State initiatives for re-entry programs that match prior offenders with jobs.
Better preparing offenders for opportunities in today’s economy with more high-demand critical training that they need to succeed once they are out is imperative for our economy at this point in time. Many Chambers of Commerce around the country are helping ex-offenders become entrepreneurs and the United States Government offers Re-Entry and Community Help that connects ex-offenders with law students who help them tackle employment barriers.
Of course, the above noted programs and initiatives need progressive thinkers who advocate for Criminal Justice Reform and are willing to put their time, effort and money on the line. Sometimes we can’t wait for the public to get to the point of acceptance of a moral issue; sometimes we need leaders to make ‘it happen’.
So often, we have people that have gone through the criminal justice system without the documentation they need, without the skills they need, without a job at all and without a link to transportation. Some of these individuals were not guilty of the crimes they were accused of and some may have been first time offenders that did not realize what they were doing was criminal…and yes, some may have known exactly what they were doing but did not have the moral compass to let them know it was WRONG…but, all need to be looked at with a clear vision of their ability to learn from their mistakes (by either doing a WRONG, being at the WRONG place at the WRONG time, etc.) and given a chance to become productive members of our society.
There are some well known business executives in this country who are beginning to think more about the economic potential of ex-offenders. Businesses nationwide are starting to realize that ‘there’s no hidden, easy labor force out there’. With unemployment at 4.1%, the economy needs more workers to continue the current economic cycle because ‘it will likely end when we run out of workers’. There is limited hard data out there on this, but those employers who follow a model of partnering with government entities that support the employee find that they don’t just get an adequate worker, but they actually get a pretty good one. This is a great opportunity for US companies to look at this labor pool as long as they do it right. The bottom line is the less people we have returning to prison, the more monies that can be allocated or earmarked to the Department of Corrections for more preventive-type programs.
The City of Philadelphia has a program which began last July; it gives a significant tax abatement to companies that hire ex-offenders within five (5) years of release from incarceration, are approved by the Mayor’s task force (there are certain ‘offenses’ that do not fit the categories of need for hire ….i.e. misdemeanors for marijuana possession and first/second time DWI/DUI, to name a few), are paid a minimum of $12.10/hour (what Philadelphia considers to be a living wage) and works a minimum of 21 hours/week. The program is in its pilot stage at this point in time and statistic gathering organizations are waiting (anxiously) to see whether it is a success or not. Let’s all hope that it is…
A real goal for imprisoned ‘offenders’ would be for them to receive the soft skills and hand-o-training so that when they come out, they could have a career pathway….but that is down the road and that has been fought for by conscientious individuals that have a true moral compass since Tocqueville wrote his essays on the American penal system.
Let’s take the time to look at background checks more diligently and not just ‘throw’ out those that have any kind of record; let’s look at the ‘offenders’ individually and see what we can do to help our economy as well as help someone build a ‘new’ life.
If you have any questions regarding the hiring of ex-offenders, training programs, etc., or if you are an ex-offender having a problem obtaining a position, please contact Rosanne Bennett at 484-718-3427 or at firstname.lastname@example.org I may be able to help.