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State launches program to help employ ex-offenders

August 24, 2011

The state is launching an initiative aimed at helping ex-offenders find jobs, particularly with large businesses that tend to have the most trepidation about hiring them.

Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development will partner with the state’s Department of Correction to identify those released from prison who would make promising job candidates, based on factors such as their record in prison.

A work force development employee then will work with regional Work One job-placement and training centers across the state to provide the candidates with job skills and consult with potential employers about hiring them.

The state’s Unemployment Insurance Board last week approved $600,000 to pay for the program for the last six months of the state’s 2012 fiscal year, which began July 1. The initiative would launch in January and eventually would cost an estimated $1 million annually to cover the salaries, supplies and travel expenses of 13 employees.

DWD Commissioner Mark Everson said the department aims to find jobs for 500 to 600 ex-offenders next year but eventually hopes to increase that number.

He came up with the idea for the program after talking to dozens of Indiana mayors and employers about the state of the work force. Among their concerns is being able to find willing employees to fill jobs quickly, particularly labor-intensive positions with difficult hours.

Everson said not all ex-convicts will be able to fill such jobs, but those who do qualify need help in connecting with employers, particularly the larger, more bureaucratic organizations that tend to be cautious about hiring them.

“You can’t convince me there isn’t some number of individuals leaving the prison system who are extremely motivated to lead a normal, productive life and need that chance,” Everson said. “You do time and you get a life sentence in the job market. We need to turn that around.”

Several not-for-profits across the state provide mentoring, job training and other services for ex-offenders. Everson said the goal is not to supplant those groups but find ways to partner with them in hopes of making their jobs easier.

More than 20,000 people are released each year from the Department of Correction, and 35 percent of them go back to prison within three years, according to state data. The recidivism rate, however, is at least 35 percent lower among those ex-offenders who are employed.

Workforce development’s ability to collaborate with the state prison system and its existing resources at the Work One centers make the agency a logical coordinator for the initiative, Everson said.

The ex-offenders will be selected for the program three months prior to their release and will start receiving some basic training in areas such as financial literacy and resume development before they leave prison.

Money for the program will come from penalties and interest payments paid by employers who are delinquent on unemployment insurance taxes. That fund had $4.4 million as of July 31.

Workforce development saw its share of federal funding reduced by 18 percent this year, and that has drastically sliced the state’s amount of discretionary funding. But Everson said the cuts have increased the need for the department to prioritize how it spends money, and this initiative will make a significant impact.
 
“This is something we think is a priority,” Everson said, “and we think it will make a difference.”
 

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