Saturday, September 30, 2006

RIO: First Steps Toward Re-Integrating Offenders

Q: If you can't find a job, if for months on end no one will hire you because of a felony record, and you need to eat and pay rent and fill the gas tank and feel a little self-respect, what do you suppose will happen?

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.

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.

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.

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.

18 comments:

Dos Centavos said...

On top of the $2,400, I believe the state also provides assistance in bonding the ex-offender employee in order to alleviate the risk. I think 1/2 the problem is also a lack of marketing of this program.

Very good post on a program that must be improved. It addresses issues of safety, crime, and economic empowerment.

Jess said...

Dear grits, can you tell me a little about "Fencing". My boyfriend recently loaned a friend of his a pistol that he owned just to practice shooting or something-yeah, before you say it, it was kinda a stupid thing to do. Anyways, the guy had it in his car and then it was stolen by this woman we all three know(I live in a really small town). Anyways, she gave it to the guy who stole my truck last year. Both are heavily involved in drug manufacturing, etc. They have both escaped aany and all legal problems they both should have gotten into time and time again due to being in the wrong place wrong time over and over. My boyfriend says they are both "Fences" for the police and that they snitch and steal from people for the police and in return they get to run amuck and avoid any penalties for getting caught. He says his gun is probablly already in the hands of the police or another "Fence". Can you tell me how common this is and how and when it is that their good luck will run-out-if it runs out. Not that I plan on trying to hurry the process up. I'm no snitch.

sunray's wench said...

Morning Grits, here is a little info on the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).

What is it?
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), which replaced the Targeted Jobs Tax Credit (TJTC) program, provides a tax credit for employers who hire certain targeted low-income groups, including vocational rehabilitation referrals, former AFDC recipients, veterans, ex-felons, food stamp recipients, summer youth employees, and SSI recipients.

What are the Minimum Employment Requirements?
Eligible employees must work 180 days or 400 hours; summer youth must work 20 days or 120 hours. A partial credit of 25 percent for certified employees who worked at least 120, but less than 400 hours may be claimed by the employer.

Where can I obtain additional information?
U.S. Department of Labor
Employment & Training Administration
1- 866-4-USA DOL or (202) 693-2786
TTY: 1-877-889-5627
or your local State Employment Security Agency

Employers can also apply for a Small Business Tax Credit if the employee is disabled, as many who come out of prison are.

Project RIO is not compulsory for inmates in TDCJ, they are only encouraged to sign up for the program when they are within 18 months of release. I've yet to hear of anyone who got a job DIRECTLY through being on the program, but I'm sure people do.

With the numbers of people who are and have been incarcerated in Tx, very soon people will no choice but to hire ex-offenders.

800 pound gorilla said...

I've also read about the problems with employers who exploit this tax break. They hire ex felons in "disposable" jobs. As soon as the credit is over so is the felon's job. This doesn't create new jobs; it merely takes the low wage jobs that would go to someone without the credit and gives it to someone with the credit. Playing off felons and welfare recipients against other workers it just drives down free market wages for those who contribute to authoritarian GOP legisliars.

The best solution involves a major mindset change and that isn't an easy task. We have the drug war because of mass media stigmatization of certain classes of drug users. We demonize their drugs as part of scamming taxpayers for drug war goodies and loss of basic freedoms. And then we reward agressive prosecutors of this scam with reelection. Then those of us who really see the damage advocate reforms at the fringes of the problem - instead of confronting the scam artists directly with their perfidy.

Anonymous said...

I have experienced the utter frustration of offenders because of two DWI convictions, one from five years ago, and another from ten years ago. First, these two incidents are not indicitive of the person that I am. In fact, it was the second incident, that incited me to stop using alcohol to alleviate anxiety, set goals, conquer fears, finish college, and generally change my life all for the better, and relaizing it was important for me to make a difference in the lives of others, I decided I wanted to teach.

The convictions are ubiquitous, others are sanctimonious, and the "sentence" is never over.

After teaching on an emergency permit in Florida for one year, and receiving high accolades from administration, I was sent a letter denying my certification b/c I was deemed "morally unfit" and "morally turpitudinous." I taught kids who now have my photo pasted under their MySpace heroes - I did make a difference, but does anyone care? Of course not, and I was left utterly demoralized after giving %1000 to my job and my students.

I was a great teacher not in spite of my past, but because of it.

Offenders have to have some chance to redeem themselves and their lives; doors slamming in the face of those pursuing growth and transformation just creates an amalgamation of feelings that are detrimental to individuals and society.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comment. I too have a DWI and it follows me everywhere.

Anonymous said...

The above comments help me - as a GF of a man struggling to overcome his felony DUY I struggle to be the support he needs. How will he have to pay he asks...

Anonymous said...

The program is a work in progress towards the right step. There are flaws with any new system, but the main thing is making employers more acceptable to hiring felons. That's the problem I have faced. It's pretty ironic that we can give people second chances by putting them on parole, but as far as most of the labor industry is concerned there is no such thing as a second chances.

Anonymous said...

Where should I even begin to help my dad a convicted felon for DWI find a job. He has a great sales resume but no hope

Anonymous said...

Help im lost in texas. I have a $6.75 hourly paid job,no home and barely any money to feed myself. Gas prices are so high here half of the money I recieve is money put into my car to make it to work. Yes! they do hire felons here but dont expect to get paid more than enough to be able to buy work shoes or clothes to work in. All because I have one felony but no previous records of me doing any wrong doing as a juvenile.

Sincerley poor,poor in Texas

Anonymous said...

I've been out for some time and sometimes it does sadden me to see that people will judge you on your background. I believe that there are two very diffrent laws in the world we must obey. When we break the laws of man we need to pay the consequences for it. AT the same time you can be straight and righteous according to these laws and find yourselves dishonorable in God's eyes cause we are all guilty and will stand judged in his eyes. AS a Christian nation we need to help those that come out of prison, not as trash, but people like us that made mistakes. Give them an oppotunity and don't punish them twice.

Anonymous said...

I am a convicted felon who has been out of prison for 2 years now. I not only did " my time ", but I continue to do it everyday. I am days away from being homeless with no money and no options that I am aware of. I made some mistakes, and am reminded of them every time I sit in front of an employer to be told they cant hire me. I am going to the homeless shelters in Austin TX, if anyone knows of any program that would help me or just give me the chance, please, email me at dunn.christian@yahoo.com. And for all of those who face the same obstacles remember, " we fall, so we can learn to pick ourselves up" .

Anonymous said...

My husband is an exfelon and he can't get a job because of it. We have lost everything since he got laid off from his job with etelecare which he held for over 2 years. We had to move back to san antonio and now he can't find a job anywhere. I'm scared because he's giving up on himself. He feels that the world doesn't want him in it anymore and there is nothing he can do to be forgivin of a stupid decision he made over 7 years ago. I'm disabled and can't work, I'm not on disability because he used to make so much at etelecare but I'm applying for it and they say it could be over 6 months for their decision. This is unfair!! Please help us find my husband a job. He is a computer tech by trade but he can also do labor work. if you have any work for him please email daven_harris@yahoo.com ANY JOB TEMP OR PERM/ We just really need help so bad!

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Big Country said...

in 2007 project rio denied giving me any assistance do too they said I was already rehabilitated because I was coming out of the therapeutic community still on parole and struggling to find a job. Can I still go back to rio and apply for assistance after threse 3 and a half years? Larry G.

schrodinger said...

What opportunities are available for someone with a Class B misdemeanor for DWLS? I have no other record, no other crimes, and the traffic stop that prompted the DWLS was only because some people saw me stop at some houses that were for rent, with the purpose of getting an info flyer out of a box or tube out on the front lawn. They thought I was 'suspicious' and called the police, who stopped me and then informed me that my DL was suspended. I went to jail, of course, and got convicted. On follow-up, I learned that the suspension had been entered based on a claim from another state that I had failed to pay a fine on a low-grade speeding ticket that I had gotten up there in 1987. I am positive that the fine was paid, but it never got put in as paid. But I can't prove it now! I got no notice, so I had apparently been DWLS for quite a few years, at least 5. But since I had no stops, I was never 'caught' until that call from the nervous neighbor when I was looking for a rent house. Now, because of the Class B, I can't get a job because I blow the background checks. Hmph, I might as well have actually committed a felony and then I could actually have qualified for some sort of help. As it stands, it's just 'Tough luck, baby!'. And now that Project RIO was scrapped, more felons will be in this same boat. Texas might as well issue every offender a life sentence in TDCJ since even a misdemeanor is a 'life sentence' in this state. At least in prison, I have housing, food, medical care, television, clothes... all the things that I'm trying to work for and earn on my own but can't get because no one will hire me.