Giving ex-cons a second chance on the assembly line
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2.3 million people are incarcerated across America. In fact, we have the highest incarceration rate in the world, at 698 per 100,000 of population.
Regardless of the reasons behind that appalling statistic, the fact is, 97 percent of offenders in jail today will someday be released and return to the communities from which they came. Statistics show that 30 percent of adult offenders released from state prisons are rearrested within the first six months. Even worse, 67 percent of ex-offenders return to prison within three years of their release. Parole violators now account for 35 percent of new prison admissions, compared to only 17 percent in 1980.
Why do so many ex-cons become repeat offenders? Statistics indicate that employment is critical. Of the 262,000 federal prisoners that were released from prison from 2002 to 2006, half of those who could not secure employment committed a new crime or violated parole and were sent back to prison. However, an astonishing 93 percent of those who did land a job successfully reintegrated into society and stayed out of prison.
Unfortunately, getting a job is difficult for those with a prison record. More than 60 percent of former inmates cannot find work within their first year out of jail. Research shows that a criminal record can reduce an employer’s interest in an applicant by 50 percent (a bias that’s even worse for African Americans).
To stop this revolving door, employers must start giving ex-cons a break. Admittedly, hiring a former criminal can be scary. It would be a lie to say there are no risks involved. Nevertheless, many businesses have come to depend on ex-cons for entry-level jobs and find they are usually dependable employees. Most ex-offenders have completed programs designed to help them develop job skills.
Fortunately, there is some sugar to help make the medicine go down. The Federal Bonding Program provides fidelity bonds to companies that hire ex-cons. The free insurance compensates companies for employee dishonesty during the first six months of employment. Another federal program, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, lets businesses reduce their federal income tax liability when they hire ex-cons. That could amount to as much as $2,400 per worker.
One manufacturer that has stepped up is Cascade Engineering, a manufacturer of plastic parts in Grand Rapids, MI. The company has been creating career pathways for ex-offenders for over a decade. More than 75 formerly incarcerated workers are among the company’s staff of 690. One of them, Jahaun McKinley, joined the company after spending 19 years in prison for assault. He’s been with the company for six years and is now in a management position.
We applaud manufacturers like Cascade Engineering for giving ex-offenders a second chance, and we encourage other manufacturers to do the same.