When people are done serving their prison sentences and released back into society, a monumental task awaits them. They must find employment in a world of “check the box” employers where it is common place to ask every potential employee if they have ever been convicted of a felony offense. The stakes for job seekers are high. Rates of recidivism rise exponentially for those who are unable to successfully find employment. But the stakes aren’t just high for those trying to reintegrate themselves into society. When individuals cannot find employment, it contributes to a social and economic cycle of recidivism that can lead to imprisonment; all of which comes at the expense of taxpayers.
The numbers involved are staggering. Every year almost 70,000 people are released from prison and expected to find employment. Of the nearly 70,000 released, more than half of those individuals will end up back in the system within three years if they have not found employment. The National Law Project estimates that 70 million Americans have some type of criminal record, potentially making them ineligible for employment solely because of said record.
The old approach to helping incarcerated individuals gain employment only tackled a small part of the problem and was largely ineffective at combating the biggest barrier to employment upon reentry. Inmates were given opportunities to learn new job skills that would be applicable in wide range of industries as well as educational opportunities. They were also taught interviewing skills and resume writing. Yet, the majority of released individuals were still unable to find employment or were only able to secure short term, low-paying jobs. The problem? Job seekers reported that potential employers refused to hire them when they learned of the previous convictions.
There are places working to combat the stigma around hiring felons. The Federal Probation Department has been re-examining the way they help people under supervision find employment. Instead of solely looking at the person’s skill set, educational background. etc., the probation department is trying to change the perception of felons as potential employees. A field office in St. Louis Missouri actually went door to door to speak with local businesses about their concerns when it comes to hiring felons. The program in St. Louis has turned into, in effect, an employment agency even hosting mock job fairs. Since the program began, unemployment among ex-offenders dropped by more than a half. The rate of unemployment for ex-offenders nationally is around 50% while the rate of recidivism in 2012 was 15% compared to a 38% rate nationally.
Some businesses are even working to change the perceptions of ex offenders as employees. Here in Columbus, Hot Chicken Takeover has developed a reputation for hiring people who have been incarcerated. It is a reputation that founder Joe DeLoss has worked hard to earn. He says hiring felons with their drive and motivation to succeed is crucial to his business’ recipe for success. “Not all criminals go to prison,” DeLoss says. “There’s a notion that hiring someone with that label is more of a risk than someone who hasn’t earned those papers yet.” He and his team don’t buy into the perspective that the restored citizen workforce is somehow “less than.” The Franklin County Reentry Coalition is also working to change opinions. The coalition likes to remind my employers that there are practical benefits like tax breaks to those who hire ex offenders, as well.
If you need a lawyer for a criminal case in the State of Ohio or a Federal case, call Attorney W. Joseph Edwards 614-309-0243 who has over 25 years of experience representing clients in these legal matters and providing aggressive criminal defense.