Sunday, October 15, 2006

SA's first job fair for parolees improves public safety

I've argued that making sure ex-prisoners find employment should be a key public safety priority for Texas, and have been happy to see a handful of promising developments in that direction.

A recent job fair for ex-felons in Dallas drew thousands of applicants, while the parole office in San Antonio last week held its first ever job fair for parolees. Reported the Express News ("Jobs: Very careful hires," Oct. 14):
Nearly 2,000 parolees return to Bexar County each year. At any given moment, there are about 5,000 people on parole in the county who must stay employed, say local parole board officials.

They often have few or outdated skills, minimal work history and a record of drug offenses, which require them to petition to be recertified for many medical positions.

Still, employers hire 65 percent to 70 percent of the parolees in Bexar County.

That's a higher employment ratio than I would have expected for a big city like San Antonio, especially since this was their first ever job fair. I wonder what the statewide employment figure is for Texas parolees?

Said one human resources manager "I was very, very impressed with the group I hired." He added that getting a one-time state tax credit of $2,400 per parolee ws also a big incentive. "It's a win-win situation for everyone," he said.

I'm really glad to see this event and hope it will be replicated at parole offices in other Texas cities.

The job fair was sponsored by the NGO SER Jobs for Progress, Inc., which operates five career development centers in San Antonio. I didn't know much about the group, but according to this brief history the national organization actually began in Texas and has several local branches here. Said the paper, "SER employees spend a lot of time calling employers to get them to consider hiring parolees. They stress the need to get parolees into work to reintegrate them into society." Good for them.

If felons can't get jobs to pay for rent, bills and groceries, what chance do they have to avoid returning to a life of crime?
(The comment string under this post, in particular, continues to draw an array of sad but typical examples of employment struggles by those with criminal records.)

It's in everybody's interest to ensure ex-prisoners find employment, not just a project for liberal do-gooders but for everyone who wants to prevent crime. Until that happens and their lives find some stability, for most ex-prisoners the "corrections" system hasn't corrected real reasons people return to crime.

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