Ex-cons rec­om­mended for hard-to-fill jobs

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY TIM DE­VANEY

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment thinks it has found an un­der­used re­source for turn­ing the job mar­ket around: Ex-cons.

For­mer prisoners work harder and are more pro­duc­tive than tra­di­tional em­ploy­ees, sup­port­ers say, and they are will­ing to take jobs no one else wants.

“When some­one serves time, they shouldn’t face a life­time sen­tence of un­em­ploy­ment,” Sec­re­tary of La­bor Hilda L. So­lis said at a re­cent press con­fer­ence, where she an­nounced $20 mil­lion in grants to help young prisoners re-en­ter so­ci­ety and the work­force. “There are clear eco­nomic ad­van­tages to rein­te­grat­ing these peo­ple in our work­force.” Take Ge­or­gia, for ex­am­ple. With the state’s tough new il­le­gal-im­mi­gra­tion statute driv­ing away many of the tra­di­tional farm­work­ers, Gov. Nathan Deal re­cently sug­gested that many of the state’s 100,000 ex-prisoners now on pro­ba­tion could fill about 11,000 open­ings in the state’s top in­dus­try.

“There are a lot of pos­i­tives that come from probationers be­ing em­ployed,” said Brian Robin­son, the gov­er­nor’s deputy chief of staff of com­mu­ni­ca­tions. “We are putting peo­ple who aren’t able to find jobs into jobs that we ac­tu­ally need done. They’re do­ing a job that is very im­por­tant to our state.”

In fact, in the state’s Ba­con County they are even us­ing cur­rent prisoners to farm 18 acres of blue­ber­ries through a workre­lease pro­gram. The in­mates en­joy get­ting out from be­hind bars, and they do it for free, so it saves the com­mu­nity money.

“They do a good job for us,” said Roger Boa­tright, chair­man of the county com­mis­sion­ers. “They get the job done, and we’re very pleased with them.”

In Vir­ginia, Gov. Bob Mc­Don­nell has also placed an em­pha­sis on help­ing for­mer prisoners reen­ter so­ci­ety. “Amer­ica is a nation which be­lieves in sec­ond chances,” he said.

On a na­tional level, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr. said this is a pri­or­ity for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. “It has never been more im­por­tant,” he said at the La­bor Depart­ment con­fer­ence with Mrs. So­lis last month.

But for most for­mer prisoners, it’s not so easy to find a job. They face high un­em­ploy­ment rates, with Ge­or­gia hav­ing a rate of nearly 15 per­cent.

Na­tion­wide, more than 95 per­cent of prisoners will be re­leased at some point, ac­cord­ing to the Fed­eral In­ter­a­gency Reen­try Coun­cil. That means each year about 700,000 for­mer in­mates will come back into so­ci­ety.

Em­ploy­ers of­ten are afraid to hire them. They ques­tion whether the ex-cons will fol­low rules, or if they will steal from the com­pany or put other em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers in dan­ger.

Glenn Martin, spokesman for the For­tune So­ci­ety, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s goal is to find these for­mer in­mates jobs, “whether they’ve spent 40 years in prison, or one night in hand­cuffs.” Half of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s staff mem­bers are for­mer in­mates, and so are one-third of the board mem­bers.

Mr. Martin him­self was locked up for six years, and when he was re­leased he had to in­ter­view for 35 po­si­tions be­fore he was even­tu­ally hired.

“When it comes to em­ploy­ment, peo­ple with crim­i­nal records are at the back of the line, and the line just got that much longer be­cause of the econ­omy,” he said. “Em­ploy­ers are over­look­ing a valu­able seg- ment of the la­bor mar­ket.”

He said hir­ing for­mer prisoners will help the econ­omy, be­cause the al­ter­na­tive is hav­ing the gov­ern­ment sup­port them through pub­lic as­sis­tance and shel­ter pro­grams.

Busi­nesses that hire for­mer prisoners are el­i­gi­ble for a $2,400 tax credit. They also can be in­sured against theft and dam­age from those em­ploy­ees through a fed­eral bond­ing pro­gram that is free to the em­ployer.

Mrs. So­lis added that work­ers with a crim­i­nal record tend to be more pro­duc­tive. It is more dif­fi­cult for them to find jobs, and there­fore, they have a greater sense of ur­gency.

“We’re los­ing out on a lot of pro­duc­tiv­ity,” she said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

La­bor Sec­re­tar y Hilda L. So­lis

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