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Expanding Job Opportunities for Non-Violent Offenders

January 20, 2016 - 12:15pm

 With more than‭ ‬100,000‭ ‬inmates‭ ‬behind bars,‭ ‬Florida’s correctional population is among the largest in the United States.‭ 

 ‬One of the primary causes for the high population is that more than two-thirds of offenders are re-arrested and‭ ‬more than one-in-four‭ ‬return to prison within three years of their release.‭  ‬When these individuals cycle in and out of state and local facilities,‭ ‬they run up an enormous bill that is shouldered by Florida taxpayers.‭ ‬It costs an average of‭ ‬nearly‭ ‬$19,000‭ ‬per year to house an inmate‭ – ‬more than three times the cost of tuition at the University of Florida.‭  

Allowing‭ ‬non-violent prisoners‭ ‬who have paid their debt to society a better chance to be considered for employment could help reduce recidivism,‭ ‬improve public safety,‭ ‬and‭ ‬save taxpayers millions of‭ ‬dollars each year.

More than‭ ‬30,000‭ ‬inmates are released‭ ‬from Florida prisons annually.‭ ‬This means nearly‭ ‬8,000‭ ‬inmates released from prison in‭ ‬2016‭ ‬will be back‭ ‬behind bars by‭ ‬2019,‭ ‬and‭ ‬21,000‭ ‬will have been arrested within that same time frame after unnecessarily hurting Florida’s families and businesses.‭ ‬While these numbers have decreased in recent years,‭ ‬they still suggest that Florida must improve‭ ‬the odds of success for‭ ‬offenders‭’ ‬re-entry into society.‭ 

One of the most difficult challenges a prisoner faces upon release is finding a steady job.‭  ‬The unemployment rate in Florida has decreased since‭ ‬2010,‭ ‬but the job market in the Sunshine State remains competitive,‭ ‬posing a challenge for released offenders trying to re-enter the work force.‭  

While many offenders participate in educational,‭ ‬vocational,‭ ‬and work-release programs before and after their release,‭ ‬the truth is that no amount of programming can put someone who has served time on an even playing field with someone who has not.‭  ‬Beyond legal limits on employment options,‭ ‬released offenders also face non-statutory obstacles when they look for work.‭  ‬National studies show that having a record‭ (‬but otherwise similar backgrounds‭) ‬decreases the chance of a job applicant receiving a callback after an interview by up to‭ ‬75‭ ‬percent.‭  ‬This poses a serious problem,‭ ‬as unemployment for offenders has been consistently linked to increases in recidivism and decreased public safety.

The nation has long sought solutions addressing the cycle between unemployment and keeping ex-offenders from returning to prison.‭  ‬The federal government has incentives to encourage employers to consider ex-offenders for employment,‭ ‬the most notable being the Work Opportunity Tax Credit which allows for up to‭ ‬$9,600‭ ‬in tax reductions for businesses‭ ‬that hire qualified ex-offenders.‭  ‬Several states have added to this effort and a similar push in Florida could be beneficial.‭  ‬A few policymakers highlighted this during the‭ ‬2015‭ ‬Legislative Session in bills that sought to create a‭ ‬$1,000‭ ‬state tax credit for employers hiring ex-offenders and accepting vocational referrals.

These tax credits actually save taxpayers money.‭ ‬For every‭ ‬100‭ ‬inmates that find employment and do not re-offend,‭ ‬the state can save at least‭ ‬$2‭ ‬million in future corrections costs.‭  ‬That doesn’t include the increase in public safety that comes with ex-offenders working rather than committing crimes.‭ ‬Florida needs to get serious about improving employment opportunities for ex-offenders.‭ ‬As our legislative leaders search for ways to save taxpayer‭’ ‬money,‭ ‬helping offen ders get to work will make our state safer and allow for investments that will benefit all Floridians rather than maintaining a costly cycle of incarceration.

Dominic M.‭ ‬Calabro is president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

 

Comments

I am the Employment Specialist for the Florida Department of Corrections in Circuit 20. This article is timely and spot on when it comes to admonishing Florida to get behind legislation and policy that mandates education and vocational training for both inmates and probationers. I believe we are beginning to recognize how investing in degrees and certifications is much cheaper than supporting a re-offender in jail. That is why my position was created, after all. But I would challenge the Florida tax-payer to go further and recognize the mind-set we battle when encouraging an offender to "do better". I can get just about anyone a job. What I wish I was in the business of doing, is finding them a career. Every offender I counsel, to a man, feels his future is diminished, even ruined, by his past. This belief is deep-seeded and universally accepted as truth. That belief is what I seek to change. I risk the 'bleeding heart" moniker here, but if we can change the way a man views himself, he will change the way he views his possibilities. If we can open the mind of local businesses so they take the risk and hire, we can create a tax-paying citizen and make our neighborhoods safer. If we manage this issue as a village and not as a business, we can all win.

Study after study shows that the most benefit in reducing recidivism comes from an inmate receiving a high school diploma and/or a vocational certificate while incarcerated. With this knowledge in hand you would think the department would embrace these programs whole heartedly. Not so. Education departments in correctional facilities are understaffed, underpaid by thousands of dollars compared to public teachers, and work with practically no technology under highly stressful conditions. Officers complicate things by harassing inmates trying to navigate to classes and denying them recreation, canteen, and library privileges. Further, the department denies the award of gain time to inmates who complete these programs, a tactic which makes it extremely hard to motivate inmates to participate in the programs. The department talks a good game when it comes to re-entry programs but fails to back that talk up with actions. In most cases the department is about incarceration, not rehabilitation.

The simple solution is : Get away from Florida, and everybody you complain about who is trying to help you can then offer that help to someone who actually needs it instead of someone just looking for "time off the tier". Besides, if someone is not SELF-motivated, then all of the current effort is for naught (that's "0" or zero fellas). Do your time, in accordance with the crime, and then, head North and be happy to be free of Florida and all the stopgaps and harassment you claim Florida "throws in front of you". All you learned how to be are "Victims"...and you learned that Looong before you entered the "system".

I hear there's employment in the Dakota's....GO FOR IT ! Unless you're an illegal alien,...Then get the hell out and go back to your own country of birth where recitivism earns you death (and you won't have to work). Aside to Barney Bishop IIIIIII: Although your usual over-the-top praise is admirable, your "socialist slip is showing" and your effluvium is even apparent waaayyy out here...

As usual Dominic hits the proverbial nail right on the head...putting ex-offenders to work and getting them a high school degree are the highest rated factors that would help them from NOT going back to a life of crime, according to all of the research...Dominic and Florida TaxWatch have done an excellent job of advocating for change in the corrections and criminal justice system through the Center for Smart Justice at TaxWatch...the Florida Smart Justice Alliance salutes TaxWatch for its continued focus on this important and expensive issue for state taxpayers...helping to put ex-offenders to work will save millions of dollars and more importantly, produce fewer victims of crime!

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