|Ex-Offender Re-entry Programs Need More Attention|
|By Albert Woodard , Chairman, CEO and President of Business Computer Applications (BCA)|
A number of studies have concluded that married men and men with steady jobs are less likely to break the law than single men or unemployed men. While these studies appear to state the obvious, they lead to a huge unanswered question....how can ex-offenders find and keep a job and/or a marriage partner?
A rap sheet is not an Ivy League diploma that will attract future employers or impress a potential marriage partner. Some rappers consider these badges of honor. I believe they only hurt, but that’s a topic for another day.
Job hunting isn’t easy anytime, and today’s weak economy makes it even more difficult. Add to this mix the fact that many businesses won’t even consider applications coming from ex-offenders. An affirmative criminal history box checked on a job application ensures that it will probably wind up in the trash. It’s also highly unlikely that a single woman looks at an unemployed ex-offender as suitable marriage material.
This isn’t just a personal issue for an individual looking for work, but a national concern as well since studies have shown that inability to gain employment is one of the leading causes of criminal recidivism. And if we can reduce recidivism, we make our streets and our communities safer.
Nationwide there are 2.3 million people in federal, state and local prisons. More than 700,000 are released nationally from state and federal prisons each year and more than nine million from local jails. The three-year recidivism rate nationally is 50 percent.
So what can we do to help remove the obstacles to help ex-offenders get and keep jobs? Public safety considerations are always the top priority because ex-offenders who can’t get jobs are going to return to their prior associations and habits, including drug usage, theft, etc. which means spending more money on inmate housing costs and law enforcement. Having a job gives ex-offenders a true alternative set of choices and helps them repay their debt to society, not to mention child support, fees, fines and rent.
Just this month the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it is offering $20 million in grants to organizations that will help former prisoners find work. Nationwide, the Labor Department said it expects to award 17 grants worth about $1.2 million each as part of the program.
There are already a number of reentry programs that are having some impact. These include: faith-based programs; tax breaks for businesses that hire ex-offender; bonding and insurance programs; erasing criminal records though expungement, sealing, and purging; and even pardons. Even if all these programs combined were effective, there is still the issue of potential employers having online access to everything in a person’s criminal record including any scrap of information in a file of an ex-offender who is trying to live by the rules. The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2004 that 80 percent of U.S. companies were doing criminal background checks. That number has probably grown since then.
So, even if an ex-offender’s name is removed from public scrutiny through some of the above mentioned methods it is doubtful the privacy of those who deserve to be protected can survive the “eyes” of the Internet. It’s like you tell your kids “be careful what you put on your Facebook page, because it stays there forever.”
People who have never been guilty of anything end up carrying arrest records around for the rest of their lives even when they were found innocent. They may be unfairly denied a job, housing and so on. Despite their innocence all of this has been recorded and is circulating in cyberspace.
Mitch Pearlstein, the founder and president of the Center of the American Experiment, suggested in a recent National Review article that one possible remedy would be for police to make greater use of citations, which, he says, don’t necessarily wind up on the Internet, instead of actual arrests. He said the idea, which was proposed several years ago by the Minneapolis-based Council on Crime and Justice, would help a significant number of people avoid life-scarring records. “The police,” the council urged, “should use the citation process for low-level offenses . . . unless an arrest is justifiable because the offender presents an articulable threat to public safety.”
When an individual has made a mistake, paid his or her debt to society and is ready to get on with a productive life, we need to do what we can to help.
There are no easy answers, but Information Technology companies like mine can work with ex-offender programs, law enforcement, judicial and community based organizations to help seek solutions to ensure that the ex-offender population is not discriminated against more than any other group, as far as job opportunities are concerned. We can’t promise wedding bells and a “happily ever after” scenario, but together we can explore possibilities that may pave the way.
Corrections.com author, Albert Woodard, is Chairman, CEO and President of Business Computer Applications (BCA), an Atlanta-based IT healthcare company that provides EMR and practice management systems, scheduling, and case management information systems among others. BCA currently serves 300 healthcare sites, 5,000 physicians, and is the world’s largest telemedicine system outside of the Pentagon.
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