A: Probably you'll go back to commiting crimes. What else? It's called "recidivism," and it represents the ultimate failure of the criminal justice system.
Improving prisoner re-entry programs and employment rates was a key public safety proposal I identified last week that would actually decrease crime. The Dallas Morning News reported recently on the main state program for finding employment for ex-felons: Texas' Project RIO, which stands for "Re-Integration of Offenders." ("Convicts get help going straight ... to work," Sept. 24)
A little less than half of the 70,000 Texas prisoners released every year go through the project RIO program, and maybe 2,000 have job interviews before they leave prison, reports the News' Dianne Solis. "BoDart Recruiters Inc., a Lubbock-based private job placement agency that works with Project RIO," appears to handle all the placement.
Employers in Project RIO ... receive the federal tax credit of $2,400 after the ex-felon earns his first $6,000. And the ex-offenders are bonded for free for six months against theft or some other form of employee dishonesty.RIO is a limited program, but a good first step. I definitely want to learn more about it, because no matter where Texas goes with expanding re-entry opportunities, it will have to build on the current infrastructure, and this is it. A few folks I know who work in the nonprofit sector seeking employment for inmates don't think much of it, though I've never been clear why. It does strike me that the model of having the employer pay a fee to hire the inmates is flawed. It also strikes me, though, that there's a lot of good material to work with to construct a more comprehensive program.
Many Project RIO participants will go through training programs that range from computer education to welding.
And special care is made for hands-on, tactile learning, as studies have shown that inmates have problems with visual-auditory teaching.
Charlotte Morton, regional administrator for the Windham School District, which runs the training program within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the program has proved its effectiveness by cutting down recidivism. But she acknowledges the hurdles.
"Seventy-five percent of these men have never held a job, a legal job, in their life," Ms. Morton says.
The pool of ex-offenders is large. Texas prisons hold about 152,000. Last fiscal year, the state, with one of the nation's highest incarceration rates, freed almost 70,000 inmates. During 2006, Project RIO saw 32,380 participants. More than 2,000 participated in job interviews before their release. ...
BoDart receives a placement fee of $500 to $2,500 per hire, paid by the employer.
For starters, the federal tax credit should be made available more widely than just for employees placed by BoDart - I can't tell from this article if that's the case right now or not (maybe a helpful reader will know), but if it were it'd be a big incentive to employ ex-felons.
Think about all the major employers lobbying to expand legal immigration because they can't find employees to take low-wage jobs. If it were easier for them to access a federal tax credit of $2,400 for every employee they paid $6K, I'll bet ex-prisoners would begin to look as attractive as illegal immigrants, who in the current environment employers must assume may not be around next week.
I haven't looked into the legalities of it all, but it'd be nice if probation and parole officers were able to confer the tax credit on employers in addition to Project RIO - I've advocated holding probation and parole officers accountable for maximizing offender employment, and if that's to happen it's important to give them tools to succeed at the task.
I'm surprised more employers aren't interested in the tax credit. I think most employers look at the checkbox on an employment application that says 'have you ever been convicted of a felony' as purely a source of risk. If employers thought that checked box meant "here's a free $2,400 if the employee makes it six months," the incentives around hiring felons might significantly change.MORE: See Project Rio's 2006-'07 Strategic Plan (pdf) for a lot more detail about the program.