The Reality of Re-entry for the Ex-offender in the United States
By Lyn Wazny
People who have been convicted of a felony in the United States and are incarcerated as a result, face bleak prospects in many areas. One of the most pressing concerns is finding decent (or any) employment. There are numerous obstacles from getting a driver's license to having the right to vote. Add in other roadblocks such as the inability to find affordable housing or obtain food stamps, it is no wonder that nearly two-thirds of those released will return to prison within three years. Overall, it is a tough road ex-offenders face but there has been some positive federal programs created to assist in re-entry into the workforce.
The U.S. Department of Labor created the Federal Bonding Program in 1966 to protect employers from employee theft and to encourage them to hire ex-offenders who may have an "at-risk" background. The program is free, offers a cap of $5,000 and extends for six months from the first day of employment. Approximately 40,000 applicants have obtained jobs due to being bonded and 99 percent have proven to be honest employees. To apply for this program contact one of your local workforce centers or the Federal Bonding Coordinator in your state.
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit that encourages private-sector employers to provide on-the-job training and employment opportunities to nine target groups. This includes ex-offenders who have been released less than one year and have shown significant barriers to employment. WOTC can reduce an employer's federal tax liability by as much as $9,000. For more information contact your state Department of Labor and Employment.
The Second Chance Act, first-of-its-kind federal legislation passed in 2008, was designed to create opportunities for positive life outcomes for ex-offenders returning to society. The program authorizes federal grants to government agencies and non-profit organizations. It is overseen by the Council of State Governments Justice Center/The Re-Entry Policy Council. The web site for the National Reentry Resource Center has the most up-to-date information about the Second Chance Act.
According to the Resource Center: "In fiscal year 2009, $25 million was appropriated for Second Chance Act programs, including $15 million for state and local reentry demonstration projects and $10 million for grants to nonprofit organizations for mentoring and other transitional services. In fiscal year 2010, $114 million was appropriated for prisoner reentry programs in the Department of Justice, including $14 million for reentry initiatives in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and $100 million for Second Chance Act grant programs. In FY10, $108,493,000 was appropriated for prisoner reentry programs in the Department of Labor, including $15 million for a transitional jobs grant program."
This program provides employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victim's support and other services that help reduce recidivism. For more information about the Second Chance Act go online to www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org.
On the statewide level there are numerous agencies, organizations and programs offering services to help ex-offenders successfully reintegrate into society. Here are a few in the metro Denver area.
Jefferson County Workforce Center in Golden provides a variety of services, including the Blue Book, a listing of positions in the metro Denver area that will hire ex-offenders on a case-by-case basis. 303/271-4700
Denver Works, a faith-based non-profit organization for 14 years, offers free employment services including jobseekers/former offender workshops, one-on-one client and case management, mentoring opportunities and a clothing closet providing clothing for men and women in need of interview and work attire. 303/433-0300
The Empowerment Program works with women ex-offenders. Services offered include outpatient drug/alcohol rehabilitation, mental health services, job readiness, employment program and assistance in obtaining ID. 303/320-1989
Goodwill Industries, the nation's largest non-profit provider of job-training services, offers a wide variety of services. 303/650-7700
Stop the Revolving Door is a program open to men and women, any age who have been released from state or federal prison within 60 days. Free employment, training and supportive services for ex-offenders. Offender Hotline 303/453-8674
Motherhood Program is for female ex-offenders who have parental rights for a child under 18-years-old and has an annual income of less than $75,000. It offers free employment, training and wraparound services. Statistics from a report created by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition say that 65 percent of women in prison in Colorado are mothers of children under 18. The program is funded by a grant sponsored by the Colorado Department of Human Services. 303/453-8674
The Gateway Program at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, Colorado is a ground-breaking program for ex-offenders who are prospective students. The goal of the program is to reduce recidivism and provide positive outcomes by addressing professional, educational and social goals within an innovative and structured academic environment. Of the 91 students who have gone through the program only two re-offended. 303/914-6542.
While the above mentioned resources offer some help to ex-offenders, they continually face some daunting challenges to successfully reintegrate back into society. In Colorado, new legislation was passed in May 2009 to put more emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment for ex-offenders.
Readers are invited to share additional resources in the Comments section of this web site.
Lyn Wazny is a WIA Adult Case Manager at the Jefferson County Workforce Center in Golden, Colorado. She has a BA in Journalism from Metropolitan State College of Denver and has found a new calling in career development. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org