Helping Ex-Prisoners Find Jobs Has Become Important to the Government, Finally
by Derick Limberg
The federal government and some cities are making an effort to help ex-cons receive job training and get hired. Besides tax incentives, some companies are making a concerted effort to hire disadvantaged people which includes ex-convicts.
A tax break of $2,400 is given by the federal government to employers who hire parolees. In addition, the city of Philadelphia recently announced a program in which employers could receive a $10,000 tax break for each ex-offender hired. “The best anticrime package includes giving people a good job,” says Everett Gillison, Philadelphia’s, Deputy for Public Safety.
Representative, Danny K. Davis, D-IL, co-sponsored the Second Chance Act, a bipartisan bill signed into law by President Bush authorizing $165 million annually to curb recidivism, including money to train ex-prisoners for jobs. Department of Justice statistics show that about 700,000 prisoners are released each year and around two-thirds of those are expected to return to prison within 3 years. The commitment to the Second Chance Act remains questionable because, as this issue of PLN goes to press, the government has yet to actually fund the Second Chance Act.
For the most part, a company can legally reject an application if the person applying has been incarcerated. According to Dianna Johnson, of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there are generally few, if any, protections for ex-felons.
Companies such as Empowercom, a Denver telecommunication company, go out of their way to hire disadvantaged people. Terri Jackson, Empowercom’s founder, says hiring ex-cons has paid off for the company. “They are often highly motivated and many have usable job skills that are desirable for an employer,” says Jackson.
Chris Uggen, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, notes that employers may be forced to start hiring former prisoners because of an impending worker shortage as baby boomers age. Experts suggest former prisoners find an agency that focuses on hard to place candidates and take full advantage of any and all skills training offered by by the government, non profit groups, and employment agencies.
Peter Cover, founder of America Works, suggests ex-prisoners move quickly to land any job available to them right out of prison to avoid the allure of the criminal world. America Works is a nationwide employment agency specializing in hard to place candidates. Check out the America Works website for a listing of locations. Other websites that may be helpful to ex-cons and those soon to be released includes: The Sentencing Project, The Legal Action center, and The Prisoners Reentry Project.
The economic downturn is expected to make it even more difficult for newly released prisoners to get jobs as an expanding pool of unemployed workers gives employers a bigger selection of workers to choose from. One aspect of ex prisoner employment that has not been explored by either academics or researchers is the impact of illegal immigrant employment and ex prisoner reentry to the extent both groups of workers are competing, in many cases, for the same low skill jobs. The fact that many employers often prefer to hire undocumented alien workers, which is a federal crime, before they hire former prisoners, is an underexplored topic.
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