Individuals who are released from prison frequently experience difficulties obtaining basic necessities such as job, housing, and health care. Reintegration into society might be extremely difficult as a result of this. Ex-prisoners constraints and limited options, particularly the inability to find a gainful job, typically lead to greater recidivism rates.
Colorado’s Attorney General Phil Weiser (D) announced a new $1.1 million effort on November 9, 2021, to address these issues. The state Department of Law will distribute $900,000 to the state Department of Corrections (DOC) over the next three years, with the remaining funds going to community organizations that help formerly incarcerated people with “job skills, mental health support, housing, and other basic necessities.”
“Employers who think outside the box and can tap into a talented, devoted pool of potential employees who need employment and are ready for opportunities will gain enormously,” Governor Jared Polis stated (D).
Convicts get jobs
Employment is important not only because of its potential economic benefit but also because it removes restrictions that ex-prisoners encounter while seeking to find work. According to Weiser’s office, the Department of Corrections releases roughly 8,500 offenders each year, over half of them “return to prison within three years for new offenses or for breaking terms and conditions of parole.”
The effort intends to lower the recidivism rate by investing in re-entry programs and establishing a network of firms that recruit ex-offenders, dubbed “first chance” employers. The Department of Corrections will also be expanding its pre-release programming to include “transitional work experiences.”
Innovative programs and services are critical, according to Weiser, because “as a state, we share a joint interest in ensuring that every person who leaves prison re-enters our communities successfully and does not take behaviors that may lead to their re-incarceration.”
The re-entry effort, which has been in the works for about eighteen months, would extend existing smaller re-entry programs and services across the state. The plan will essentially combine efforts and inject much-needed cash into those programs and organizations that already exist.
Effects of the new program
Those programs have been successful even on a lesser scale. Breakthrough, a nonprofit that assists people with criminal histories, collaborates with correctional facilities to provide services that prepare inmates for life outside of jail.
Alexis McKinley, who spent six and a half years in DOC for aggravated motor vehicle theft, graduated from Breakthrough in 2019 and was hired as a traffic control employee a week after her release. She now works at Checkr as a customer experience representative (a company focused on providing fair background checks for people with criminal records). Breakthrough is credited with helping her turn her life around.
“I’m married. I just bought my first house. I actually care about life now and I care about people. I didn’t use to care about any of that,” she said.
Companies who recruit ex-offenders speak about how transformative the experience can be in terms of providing job chances. Drew Patterson, the owner of Basic Industries in Buena Vista, has been employing ex-offenders for more than two years.
“I feel like their stories have always been told for them: This is who you are, based on what you’ve done,” Patterson said, adding that “their tales are so much more alive than that.” They’re not that dissimilar to ours in many aspects. It’s been a fantastic thing for our organization for me personally.”
Ex-prisoners and the stigma associated with their criminal past are changing thanks to success stories like these. After a result, businesses reconsider their attitudes about ex-offenders and recruit more of them as they leave jail. Colorado’s proposal, hopefully, will serve as a model for other states to follow. However, the Colorado Department of Corrections’ budget for 2021 is $959 million. Almost a billion dollars is spent to imprison people, but very little is spent on initiatives to help them reintegrate into society. This follows a 40-year pattern.