By Amanda Mahan, Operation New Hope, Chief Communications Officer
Research has found that 70 million people in the United States have criminal records. Of that number, 63 percent are no longer in jail, on probation, or on parole, yet roughly 27 percent of these ex-offenders remain unemployed due to their criminal records. This disproportionate statistic to the overall unemployment rate confirms the realization that the challenge of finding work for the formally incarcerated can be a daunting task.
Evidence indicates that ex-offenders have substantially lower probabilities of being hired than members of other disadvantaged groups – such as welfare recipients, high school dropouts, unemployed people, and those with “spotty” work histories – who do not have a criminal record. Dionne Barnes-Proby, a researcher at the non-profit, non-partisan think tank the RAND Corporation, has studied how to improve employment outcomes for ex-offenders.
“People transitioning from incarceration to employment face many challenges,” says Barnes-Proby, “from limited education, skills, and work history to stigma and employers’ fears about criminal behavior and reincarceration.”
Barnes-Proby led a study of the Sacramento Probation Department employment program Career Training Partnership (CTP), which offers career and life skills training and a comprehensive support team, to analyze how these combined elements can positively affect program participants and identify remaining challenges.
RAND’s research of the CTP program suggests that combining education, vocational training, and job placement with staffing agencies or reentry programs, local employers, and union relationship building can yield positive results.
At Operation New Hope (ONH), we understand that people returning from incarceration face a multitude of barriers, with employment, transportation, and housing being three of the most reported obstacles. Without these necessities, people often feel less connected to their environments, creating communities that experience higher rates of crime, unemployment, and recidivism.
ONH supports life and job skills training for people with a history of involvement with the criminal justice system and places them in employment that offers a sustainable quality of life. People like Kendall McCoy, a convicted felon, can attest to the effectiveness of the nonprofit’s mission. For months, McCoy had tried unsuccessfully to navigate a wary job market with limited skills. At the not-so-subtle urging of his probation officer, he reluctantly showed up at the facilities of ONH. He found we offer family reunification services, a galaxy of job training and employer partnerships, mental and emotional therapy, and other wraparound services. As it turned out, working with his probation officer was a tremendous benefit.
For McCoy, it was important that ONH’s program qualified him to make a sustainable living wage while paying restitution and court costs, making the decision not to consider illegal sources of income that much easier. RAND’s study revealed that securing employment at a livable wage is one of the most significant challenges facing ex-offenders. Career training can be a way to obtain a hand-up, not a handout.
Josh Martino, a partner and board member at ONH, says he’s hired several ex-offenders in his businesses. He realized that hiring employees through ONH’s “Ready4Work” program cut down on time, hiring costs, and his concerns as an employer. He appreciated that employment candidates had been thoroughly vetted and came with a qualified endorsement.
To make training programs more successful, RAND suggests removing obstacles to participation, for example, by providing transportation or helping ex-offenders address driver’s license issues. Providing a subsidy or stipend may also help participants offset costs and increase their chances of completing the program.
ONH understands the importance of providing support to the ex-offenders and continues to work every day to build a stronger community by creating opportunities to realize second chances and reduce recidivism.