So many of the budget and spending decisions coming out of Washington leave me scratching my head. But one I saw last week, this announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor about a $5 million funding opportunity to link inmates to jobs before they’re even released, makes a whole lot of sense.
It also makes sense that this opportunity — providing employment services pre-release and steady support as they transition back to their communities — is open to county, municipal and regional jails and correctional facilities. It’s these prisoners — convicted of lesser crimes, for the most part, than those housed in federal institutions — who probably just need that kind of boost to turn their lives around and stop lingering, dangerously, outside the mainstream.
The grant supports a pilot project announced last year, Linking to Employment Activities Pre-release (click the link provided on this linked page), that places American Job Centers inside these local jails. There, soon-to-be-released inmates can access job-placement services and counseling to increase their chances of getting work without going through that uneasy “limbo” between living behind bars and earning a living.
“There is no such thing as a spare American,” says U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, “so we need to meet people where they are and help them overcome barriers. These grants will give soon-to-be-released inmates a real shot at success, keep our communities safe and go a long way toward breaking the cycle of incarceration that has plagued so many families around the country.”
Amen to that. I know such a family. I can attest to the heartache each member of that family feels watching their loved one struggle and stumble and wade through the uncertainty and disillusion of trying to land a job fresh out of a county jail. The level of the offense that put him there pales in comparison to the crime of his feeling turned away, time after time, as applications are completed, resumes sent, and calls for interviews just never come.
I pray for him every day that he’s not becoming tempted to give up on the rest of his life altogether.
It’s heartening to see, in this list of felon-friendly employers on the exoffenders.net website, just how many organizations have acknowledged the part the business community can play in giving ex-cons a chance. At the time I’m writing this, I count 129 companies, though the list is ever-changing.
Granted, there are many more groups forming and efforts under way to put ex-cons to work, but it’s nice to see — on the felon-friendly list — that just-released prisoners have a place to go to get started and stand a fighting chance.
And granted, these businesses aren’t the only ones that “get it,” that recognize the positives — not just to society, but to their organizations as well, through branding, recognition and the ability to cast a wider net to find the right person for the job.
In a story we published five years ago about a similar effort, at Connection Training Services, a Philadelphia-based organization helping recently released offenders re-enter the workforce, Ronnie Dawson, a job developer at CTS, points out one more positive:
“In most cases, people who are being released from incarceration can be your hardest-working employees because they need the job versus wanting the work.”