Program Seeks Jobs for Ex-offenders
A Win on All Fronts
Program Seeks Jobs for Ex-offenders
By Mark W. Everson and Bruce Lemmon
Unemployment in Indiana has come down from its peak two years ago but, as we all know, remains at uncomfortably high levels. This makes it all the more surprising that many employers tell us they have difficulty finding qualified candidates to fill open positions.
In addition, the Governor has charged us with looking for ways to help our offenders prepare for jobs and integration into society. Working together with the endorsement of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) are launching a pilot program to fill workplace needs and find jobs for a hand-picked group of individuals who have completed their term of incarceration.
Each year about 20,000 offenders are released from Indiana prisons. We are not suggesting that all offenders who leave prison are employment ready. But certainly many are extremely motivated to obtain a job and lead a normal, productive life. And it has been clearly documented that, at all educational levels, recidivism is significantly reduced if an ex-offender acquires and retains a job.
Unfortunately, nearly three-quarters of Indiana employers are either reluctant or outright refuse to hire ex-offenders. This creates a vicious cycle, largely locking ex-offenders out of the job market and creating significant costs to society, which are shared by all. Just one fact: the annual cost of incarceration equals that of attending a state university.
Here is how our pilot program will work. At least 90 days prior to release, IDOC will evaluate offenders using stringent criteria for inclusion in the program. Only those who have been in an institution for two years or more will be considered, affording correction professionals an adequate basis for assessing a candidate’s record, attitude and prospects for success in the outside workforce. Gang affiliations or disciplinary problems will eliminate the individual from consideration.
In addition, since most employers require a GED or high school diploma for members of their workforce, this will also be a standard for joining the program. Positive consideration will be given to individuals who have chosen to work and participate in other programs while in prison. Most importantly, IDOC and DWD will jointly review potential participants on a case-by-case basis to screen for the very best candidates.
Once selected, a participant’s skills, career goals and educational level will be assessed to determine which occupations would best suit his or her skill set, and to identify which employers could benefit from the potential employee’s talents. After an offender is accepted into the program, job-readiness training will begin. Before leaving prison, each participant will receive appropriate training to ensure he or she is prepared to meet workplace standards and employer expectations.
Across the state, DWD is hiring 12 coordinators who will work with IDOC and employers to identify businesses that would like to join the program. They will match appropriate candidates with open positions. The DWD personnel will reach out to not-for-profits and others that have a demonstrated track record supporting prisoner re-entry. Making a smooth transition into employment is challenging and one of the program’s top priorities. Participants will benefit from mentoring and receive ongoing case management and counseling. DWD program staff will also work with participants to ensure employer standards are met once individuals are on the job and to help with any issues encountered.
Ex-offenders already comprise a portion of the workforce at employers across the state, but these businesses are still the minority. We know from our conversations with those who give felons a second chance that if an individual makes a successful transition back into society, he or she often becomes a highly effective and extremely loyal member of the business team. Ex-offenders know that, because of their past, securing employment is a hard sell. They appreciate an opportunity when given and perform accordingly.
Authors: Mark W. Everson is commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, which runs the state’s unemployment insurance system and manages employment and workforce training programs. Bruce Lemmon is commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction, which houses approximately 29,000 adults and juveniles in 26 facilities. Learn more at www.in.gov/dwd and www.in.gov/idoc