Beyond the Rhetoric
By Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow
Project Rebound’s mission is to inform the small business community about prison employment training and programming to increase their willingness to hire and place former offenders into meaningful jobs thereby improving their circumstances and expanding their opportunity for success. We change their lives and make society a better place.
The United States makes up 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Since the 1970s, the U.S. prison population has soared over 700 percent. Over 600,000 people are released from U.S. state and federal prisons every year. Once a returning citizen is released there are multiple challenges facing them including finding housing, clothing, employment and the stigma of having been in prison.
Employment is critical to avoid recidivism. An estimated 68 percent of released prisoners were arrested within 3 years, 79 percent within 6 years, and 83 percent within 9 years according to National Institute of Justice. Potential employers are not aware of educational/training prison programs. Businesses may not be aware of the tax benefits of hiring returning citizens.
The concept of Project Rebound is to educate potential employers on current prison educational/training programming. We should have people to people sessions with employers and returning offenders. Also, we should seek procurement and professional service contracts from prisons with companies who hire returning offenders.
There are many prison programs that train offenders and make them “job ready” upon release. In California there is a program, The Last Mile. This program for which you must apply teaches coding, website building, software applications and entrepreneurship. To apply you must demonstrate a desire to learn and you must not have had any infractions in the last two years. Classes meet several times a week for most of the day and there are two six months courses. Coding jobs are prevalent in California and pay more than a living wage. The Last Mile program will meet the returning citizen outside the prison and provide them with clothing and housing upon their release.
Lois M. Davis writes this for the Rand Corporation: “Each year, more incarcerated individuals leave federal and state prisons and return to local communities where they will have to compete with individuals in those communities for jobs. In today’s economy, having a college education is necessary to compete for many jobs, and the stakes for ex-offenders are higher than they are for others. There are different perspectives about whether postsecondary programs in prison should lead to academic degrees or industry-recognized credentials. Drawing on past RAND research on correctional education and focusing on the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative and the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Initiative in North Carolina, this Perspective summarizes research on the effectiveness of educational programs in helping to reduce recidivism, key lessons learned in providing college programs to incarcerated adults and remaining issues that need to be addressed, including how to ensure long-term success funding of in-prison college programs and the need for an outcomes evaluation to learn from the Experimental Initiative.
It is very difficult to watch returning offenders seek employment with a couple of college degrees on their resume and yet they are turned away because of the past prison records. Frustration is an under-statement. The best way to deal with this is persistence and faith. Eventually a breath of good news will be realized, and the future becomes secured.
We trade associations must get better involved in assisting our returning offenders in the process of fitting into the positive side of society
Project Rebound will hold a small business event in Florida in November. The event will consist of presentations from successful returning citizens, employers and prison procurement officials. We will discuss the value in hiring returning citizens for the good of the community. We will learn about recidivism, why it happens and what we can do about it. We will also discuss the tax benefits and how small businesses can do business with the prisons.
We will then travel to Illinois for a similar event and then plan on more events throughout the nation. Here is a podcast we did a few years ago on Criminal Justice Reform: http://bit.ly/HarryAlford2015.
Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Ms. DeBow is the Co-Founder, Executive Vice President of the Chamber. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Emails: [email protected] [email protected].