Colorado Initiative to Increase Employment Among Ex-Inmates

The $ 1.1 million initiative aims to increase the employment rate of those who have just left the prison system.

DENVER – On Tuesday Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, joined by Governor Jared Polis and others, announced a $ 1.1 million initiative with the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) and community organizations.

The initiative is to help with employment opportunities for those leaving the Colorado prison system, which the state says will help reduce the recidivism rate in Colorado. Recidivism is when someone who is now outside the prison / prison system reoffends.

“And then the question is whether they will end up in jail or in prison? Or will they be able to rebuild their lives and become positive contributors in their communities?” Weiser said at a press conference Tuesday. “Too often we have a stumbling block in front of the blind. We have barriers and obstacles that prevent them from finding a job and building a better life.”

The state said in a statement that more than 8,500 people leave Colorado jails each year, and CDOC data shows nearly half of released offenders return to prison within three years for committing new crimes.

A second chance

The initiative has three main objectives: to invest financial resources to expand the impact of proven and promising reintegration service providers, to develop a network of employers in Colorado, and to support CDOC’s efforts to develop and scale up approaches to rehabilitation. pre-release training.

As part of this initiative, the Colorado Department of Law is providing $ 900,000 over three years through a grant to CDOC to work with community organizations to create a network of employers willing to hire people released from prison.

An additional $ 200,000 will support organizations that help people leave the prison system with job skills, mental health supports, housing and other needs.

The Latino Coalition for Community Leadership is one of the organizations that will be involved in the initiative.

Colorado director for that coalition, Cory Miskell, addressed people in Colorado jails and on parole during Tuesday’s announcement.

“Your resilience is humiliating. We have all made mistakes, but we do not all suffer the same collateral consequences, and your journey is not easy,” she said. “We hope to create a workplace where you can present your whole story. A place where self-doubt, abuse, unemployment and addiction are not the end of the story, but only part of the story. storytelling. A story that is not about a single problem or is unfortunate circumstance, but one of the complex and dynamic intersections of restoration, purpose and triumph. “

CDOC already partners with other nonprofit organizations, community initiatives and initiatives, including the Work and Gain Education and Employment Skills (WAGEES) program.

Experts intervene

According to a 2019 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Men born in the 1980s and 84s who had a first incarceration of more than six months and ending at 19 or older were much less likely to have a job after incarceration than other men.”

Just over a third of the men in the report were employed in the first few weeks after release from prison or prison.

Ten to twelve weeks after their release, about half of the group was employed. From there until week 78 after their release, the number of people with a job ranged from 50% to 58%.

Dr Apryl Alexander, Associate Professor of Forensic Psychology at University of Denver, whose research over the years has focused on the criminal justice system and recidivism, said employment, among other things, is one of the factors that help keep people out of the prison system.

“And so the community often wants to know ‘how to keep our community safe? And so, when you look at things like recidivism, what are the factors that reduce recidivism? It’s things like having access to employment, having access to housing, having access to all the resources you need to thrive in your community, ”she said. “We need to think about the barriers to accessing jobs in our community.

Some of those barriers, she said, include the stigma surrounding ex-prisoners.

It specifically refers Colorado Competitive Luck Act (also known as the Box Ban), which prohibits employers from indicating in a job posting or application that a person with a criminal background cannot apply for the position; investigate a candidate’s criminal history when applying for a job for the first time; or require disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history on an initial application.

The bans apply to all employers as of September 1 of this year.

“Vocational training is also important for people who are homeless or facing mental health or substance abuse crises. They may need support to find a job, create a resume, connect to resources in order to get paid employment. , “she said.” So, thinking of those who don’t have rich opportunities, those who have few resources, those who don’t have their basic needs met. Again, if these are individuals returning to our community, we want them all to have the support they need to thrive in our community.

Overall, she said across the country, more and more employers have been more accommodating to people returning from incarceration.

Rebecca Trammel, MSU Denver Acting Dean of the College of Health and Applied Sciences, also has years of experience in the field of prison violence and culture.

She said vocational training while people are still incarcerated is important.

“Sometimes that’s not possible, but that would be nice. Otherwise, if they’ve been in four, five, six, seven, 10 years, etc., they come out and there could be a lot of time lag between what they knew when they came in and what they knew when they left and how that was going to help them find a job, ”she said.

She also said those on parole would have an officer checking their attendance, among other things, which helps employers.

“The parole officer is most likely going to visit and say, ‘How are they? And so you could be that ideal type of employee because, you know, “my parole officer can talk to my boss,” “she said.We know that recidivism rates are related to whether or not people can get sober and sober, whether or not they can find a job, whether they have housing, adequate housing and so on. So if we can help fill some of these things with better off drugs and alcohol programs, better job opportunities for people who can earn a living wage, it will lower the rates. of recurrence. It’s better for our society. And what we don’t want is for people to come in and out of the system just because they couldn’t find a job. “

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