Monthly Archives: January 2016

How can we work with employers to reduce stigma for the previously incarcerated?

One out four adults—65 million—have been incarcerated in the U.S. criminal justice system. At least 40% of these individuals will re-enter the system after release. This is not new news. But it remains an enormous societal problem. Ironically, we know how to mitigate the problem: study after study has consistently found that ex-offenders are less likely to recidivate if they are employed, and the longer they are employed, the farther they get from re-entering the system. However, employers can be reluctant to hire those who have been previously incarcerated without understandable reassurance of safety and preparedness to join the workforce in a productive role.

Research reflects that employers who do hire ex-offenders generally find them to be excellent employees. They are dedicated. They are motivated, and the data suggest that, for the most part, they are grateful to be given the opportunity to work for a legal income. In most situations, an individual’s criminal record has no bearing on their ability to perform their job.

An ex-offender suffers a lifelong sentence reflected in the stigma that comes with the fact of his or her incarceration. It is the stigma that gets in the way of solving the problem of recidivism. Many people fear that an ex-offender may revert to criminal behavior. They tend to believe that ex-offenders possess inherent character flaws that make them untrustworthy, unreliable, and undependable. Sometimes these fears are born out, especially when a former inmate recidivates.

How do we balance the tension between knowing that to solve the problem of recidivism, we need to support our ex-offenders by employing them, with the knowledge that the potential for recidivism is high?

Any hope of dismantling the stigma the previously incarcerated face must lie in approaching the problem from both a practice and policy standpoint. Practice includes meeting the education and job skill deficits of an individual. Vocational rehab programs like those found in our Wildcat Services addresses these deficits and prepares individuals to be job-ready. Successful employment begins to break the stigma as employers experience first-hand the work of dedicated and reliable employees.

Today 92% of U.S. businesses call for a criminal background check before hiring an employee. If the background check reflects criminal activity—of any sort—then an employer is not apt to pursue the candidate. What would happen if we shifted the background check policies? What if an employer has a chance to meet and get to know a candidate before dismissing him or her based on criminal record? Would that—could that—make a difference in how ex-offenders are viewed? I believe it could.

The good news is that there are pioneering employers who are focusing on solving the problem of recidivism by successfully hiring the previously incarcerated. We are fortunate to be working with many of these employers who are chipping away at reducing the stigma associated with hiring the previously incarcerated and ultimately, helping to reduce recidivism.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

 

Employment As A Key To Reduce Recidivism

To change a community, start with a job.–Roberts Economic Development Fund

According to the 2015 Bureau of Justice statistics, 90% of all incarcerated individuals hope—and expect—to return to their communities as productive citizens.  They expect to have an address. They expect to hold a job.  They believe that they have paid their debt to society as sanctioned by the courts.  Yet the statistics reflect that 74.1% of offenders return to prison within 12 months.  And sixty to 75% of former inmates cannot find work within the first year out of jail. The result is that where there once may have been hope, that hope is quickly dashed when the realities of re-entry unfold.

Re-entry is complicated. As I wrote last week, the majority of those who enter the prison system are afflicted with substance use disorder and/or mental health issues. Many come from backgrounds mired in poverty. Most are stigmatized by virtue of time spent in prison. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to reducing recidivism. However, study after study has proven that previously incarcerated individuals who are employed are less likely to return to prison. Employment is a critical key to reducing recidivism. And, keeping just one inmate from returning to prison will save taxpayers roughly $80,000 per year per person.

If employment is key, then what is getting in the way of ex-offenders finding work and staying in the workforce?

One barrier to economic self-sufficiency is access to resources to help ex-offenders find work. At Fedcap, through our Wildcat Division, we provide transitional employment, vocational/work readiness training and jobs. We get to know those whom we serve—targeting individual skill sets, needs, aspirations—and help set goals. This individual, focused attention makes all the difference in the successful employment of ex-offenders.

In November, 2015, President Obama initiated a measure to eliminate requirements that job applicants check a box on their applications if they have criminal records. This measure, heralded by social justice reformers as the “ban the box” movement, aimed to reduce potential discrimination against former convicts in the hiring process for federal jobs. There is also movement to eliminate a background check early in the job application process to allow employers to meet and get to know a candidate before deliberately tossing the application aside because of an individual’s prison record. These are initiatives worth consideration.

Statistics prove that ex-offenders make good workers. We have experienced this at Fedcap. Giving individuals undivided attention, supporting their skill development, and offering concrete training will bear out that hope that they had before they left prison.

On February 25, Fedcap will be hosting a webinar focused on employment of the previously incarcerated. I urge you to attend, and to save the date for our Solution Series on March 30th which will feature a conversation with businesses who have successfully integrated ex-offenders into the ranks of their workforce. These conversations promise to not only enlighten, but also point to precise interventions that will change not only the life of an ex-offender, but also change our community for the better.

As always, I would love to know your thoughts.

Solving Substance Abuse Disorder in our Prisons—The Answers Are Out There.

In 2010, six years ago, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), a think tank that studies substance abuse and how it affects society, created a 119-page analysis to identify the extent at which substance abuse affects the prison population. The stats are staggering: over 80% of those incarcerated either suffer with substance abuse disorder (SUD) or have a history of substance use problems. In its report, CASA offered a set of concrete recommendations to address this problem—recommendations that would not only serve those currently incarcerated, but that would also alleviate the hemorrhaging of public funds that states consistently complain are being poured into the prison system. The money saved could be rerouted to treatment, both inside the walls and through extended care post-incarceration.

To see the full report, go to: http://www.casacolumbia.org/addiction-research/reports/substance-abuse-prison-system-2010

CASA’s recommendations include:

1)      Use trained healthcare professionals to screen, assess, and treat inmates as they enter the prison system.

2)      Provide treatment for co-occurring physical and mental health and addiction problems

3)      Provide comprehensive pre-release planning and after care coordination to continue treatment services

4)      Expand the use of treatment-based alternatives to jail and prison

5)      Require accreditation for prison-and jail-based programs and providers

Fedcap would add comprehensive work readiness activities to this list—due to the high correlation between employment and well being.  Fedcap believes that work completes treatment—for everyone including those re-entering society.

CASA estimates that the cost to implement their recommendations would be roughly $10,000 per inmate. That seems a high price tag, but not if you consider that if just less than 11% of those receiving treatment stay in recovery, the savings could—in just one year’s time—be close to $100,000 per inmate based on their successful return to society without re-entry into the prison system.

As I wrote last week, some states have begun successful programs that are chipping away at the addiction problem in their prisons. And, they are seeing substantial financial savings.  But there is no overarching, national support of these states’ efforts nor is there a comprehensive system to address the problem from the broadest level.

What is the reluctance to implement programs that would support individuals struggling with addiction and society as a whole?

We need to discuss the reasons behind the reluctance if we are to move to a national solution. What are our biases? What will it take to create a national framework, when, if implemented could change the paradigm not only for individual inmates and their families, but society as a whole?

The prison system is a perfect incubator to try out a national solution. The results of the efforts, are easy to track, monitor, and assess. Changes could be made quickly as part of an iterative and ongoing solution.

What do you think stands in the way of implementing well-researched strategies for addressing the addiction problem in our prisons? Why do you think there is such reluctance? And, what do you think can be done about it?

Why We Must Start Treatment and Work Readiness Inside the Walls: What will make the difference?

Six hundred and fifty-thousand people are released from jails and prisons each year.  The latest statistics suggest that at least 43% of those released will reenter the criminal justice system in some capacity. The criminal justice system costs taxpayers $52 billion dollars a year—and counts as the second highest expense within many state budgets.

Understanding and reducing recidivism is complex, made more so by the fact that each state chooses its own system of measurement—there are no consistent national measures. For example, some states count re-incarceration as a mark of recidivism while other states factor reconvictions, which do not necessarily result in a prison or jail sentence.  For more information on an eight-state recidivism study, go to the June 2014 National Reentry Resource Center white paper at https://www.bja.gov/Publications/CSG-ReducingRecidivism.pdf .

In the past six years, there have been some state successes in reducing recidivism. Those states where the rates have dropped have a key point in common: they employ a comprehensive approach to reforming a system that includes:

1) Working with the incarcerated population as they enter the criminal justice system and alongside them within the prison walls before they are released. We can treat the 55% of men and 73% of women who suffer from mental illness.  We can treat the 30-60% of inmates who struggle with substance use disorder. And we can provide tools to become job ready once individuals are released.

2) Engaging business in readying them to receive newly released inmates into their workforce. We know that in general, previously incarcerated individuals tend to have a high work ethic. Clearly, risk management is involved in this process, but given Fedcap’s experience in working with the court involved and previously incarcerated, the work is doable if all the parties involved work together toward a common, optimistic goal.  Here is a link to a video that describes the journey of a young man involved in our program.

In the weeks to come, I’ll further explore the specifics around addiction, mental illness, and employment among those who are previously incarcerated.

As always, I welcome your comments.