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Editorial: Fresh thinking on ex-offenders will strengthen our economy

May 17, 2019

Some central Indiana businesses, exasperated by the struggle to find qualified workers, are mining a new source of talent—ex-offenders. We’re pleased to see this trend unfold—and we credit the Indy Chamber for helping to accelerate it.

Chambers of commerce across the nation are known for following a common playbook, one that emphasizes low taxes and light regulation.

While such issues are important, the Indy Chamber in recent years has embraced a broader focus, one aimed at eliminating barriers that hold back large swaths of the population and fuel cycles of poverty.

Its push to help ex-offenders enter the workforce is a classic win-win.

Businesses, confronting an unemployment rate around 4 percent, are struggling to hire. Meanwhile, the formerly incarcerated, who face an unemployment rate about five times higher than the general population, need work to help sustain themselves and their families.

“Our competitiveness as a regional economy, as a city, depends on increasing participation in the workforce,” Indy Chamber official Ian Nicolini told IBJ’s Hayleigh Colombo recently. “We have a business case that says a more inclusive economy is a more competitive one.”

In the May 3 IBJ, Colombo reported that, since late 2017, Develop Indy, part of the Indy Chamber, has directed 112 companies looking for workers to PACE, a not-for-profit that helps people coming out of the criminal justice system re-enter the community.

PACE, short for Public Advocates in Community Re-Entry, has successfully placed about 120 ex-offenders at the companies.

Those numbers are impressive, but they’re just the start. As Nicolini told Colombo, “We’re really excited about the early results of this partnership and equally excited about the potential to scale this.”

To be sure, not all the formerly incarcerated are likely to be sterling employees. But many are motivated and grateful for a second chance, one of the employers that’s hiring through PACE told Colombo.

We’re heartened that the push to employ more ex-offenders isn’t happening in isolation. It’s part of a wide effort involving some of central Indiana’s most powerful business and philanthropic organizations to tackle rising inequality.

The challenges are driven in part by the loss of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the region, many of which have been replaced with lower-paying call-center and warehouse positions.

It’s also driven by despair, as those on the economic margins lose hope.

Some of the heaviest hitters in the region are focused on solutions—including the leadership and boards of the Indy Chamber, the Central Indiana Community Foundation and the United Way of Central Indiana.

CICP in April rolled out a five-year plan focused on helping the region’s marginalized thrive. Similarly, the United Way last August rolled out a new approach intended to accelerate progress in the increasingly complex fight against poverty.

We applaud those efforts, which embrace this reality: Central Indiana can never reach its full potential if large swaths of the population are left behind.•

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To comment, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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