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EDITORIAL: When attacking crime, recidivism, invest public dollars in what works

September 7, 2018

Unemployment is near a record low, making it tough for businesses to find qualified job applicants. At the same time, prison populations have soared and, in Indianapolis, persistently high violent crime gives the city a bad name.

Elected officials, who’ve been stymied by the problems of crime and growing prison populations, should seriously consider supporting any program that effectively attacks both problems while expanding the pool of available labor. We encourage them to have that conversation about RecycleForce, a local enterprise that supplies ex-cons with an immediate paycheck and jobs training to keep them from going back to prison.

RecycleForce, whose employees recycle discarded computers, televisions and other electronics, is one of seven transitional jobs programs the U.S. Department of Labor recently studied to determine their impact on participants, government and local communities. It emerged from the study with high marks. In fact, RecycleForce was the only one of the seven to increase employment and reduce recidivism. Its transitional jobs model delivered a return on investment of 120 percent.

One of the secrets to the program’s success, RecycleForce leaders believe, is offering participants on-site services, such as meetings with parole officers and mental-health counselors, that typically require former prisoners to leave work frequently and for extended periods.

But in a puzzling and remarkable twist, RecycleForce just lost a good chunk of its funding. A change in how transitional jobs programs are funded by the federal government resulted in the organization’s losing about $1.5 million of its $4 million budget this year. After hiring, on average, about 350 former prisoners a year for the last several years, RecycleForce will have only enough money to hire around 60 in 2018.

Shrinking a program that works isn’t acceptable. State government, which up to now hasn’t funded RecycleForce, should consider stepping in to restore what’s been lost or, better yet, provide additional funding to replicate the RecycleForce model around the state.

Turning those who’ve been convicted of crimes into law-abiding, tax-paying Hoosiers is already on the state’s radar.

The Hoosier Initiative for Re-Entry, or HIRE, program, operated by the Department of Workforce Development, seeks to find jobs for 2,500 former prisoners every year. And Indiana has gotten national attention, most recently in an Aug. 28 story in The Wall Street Journal, for being the second state in the country to teach prisoners computer coding to position them for high-demand jobs after they’ve served their time.

What RecycleForce is doing dovetails with those efforts and supports a goal Gov. Eric Holcomb discussed last January in his State of the State address, when he committed to helping prepare the state’s inmate population for a new life through job-skills training.

“This is about second chances, and this is about doing right after you’ve done something wrong,” Holcomb said.

RecycleForce seems to be doing many things right. We hope the state recognizes its success in putting formerly incarcerated Hoosiers back to work and steps up with an investment that restores the program’s capacity and expands it across the state.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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