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EDITORIAL: Off the streets and on the payroll: Make a hire that helps the city

September 8, 2008

Off the streets and on the payroll Make a hire that helps the city

Crime fighters unite!

If you're a business owner and don't think that call to action applies to you, think again.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police aren't the only ones who have a role to play in public safety. Employers can do their part to fight crime by supporting a new city initiative to find jobs for ex-offenders.

As reporter Scott Olson detailed in last week's IBJ, local firms are getting behind the effort rolled out by Mayor Greg Ballard earlier this year. Among the companies on board are Shiel Sexton Co. Inc., a construction firm that recently hired two ex-cons as concrete finishers. Shiel Sexton and its new employees found one another last month at a city-sponsored job fair for ex-offenders.

Shiel Sexton hired the men out of compassion more than need-and because leaders of the firm understand what's at stake as the city tries to keep former convicts from landing in prison again.

Of the 5,200 Indiana inmates who are released into Marion County every year to fend for themselves, 74 percent commit another crime within three years of being released, according to the state Department of Correction.

Preventing these people, most of whom are men, from returning to a life of crime depends on their finding a legitimate source of income. But roughly 70 percent of private companies won't consider hiring felons, regardless of the crime, according to a 2006 IUPUI study.

City government is leading by example to change attitudes. It hired Khadijah Muhammad, a former DOC official, to help ex-offenders find work and is revising city employment manuals to give supervisors more freedom to hire former felons who've cleaned up their act. The city also is considering giving preference to companies that employ ex-offenders when they bid on city contracts.

Companies that aren't yet convinced an ex-felon can make a good employee can still support the effort by working with a not-for-profit like Workforce Inc., which hires ex-felons to do contract work for other firms. After working for Workforce Inc., many exoffenders find meaningful work.

Helping someone make such a transition requires a leap of faith, but it's worth a shot if it changes a life and makes the city safer.
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