Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Out of Prison and Out of Employment Options

I’ve shared before about how some of our biggest “failures” have become some of our biggest successes at Bud’s Warehouse over the years. And often, these disappointments involve one of our program participants being sent back to prison.

Last week, two former program employees returned to Bud’s after two years away in prison. Both were valued members of our team who ran into difficulties escaping the past while attempting to satisfy the requirements of the parole system. And both were finding it impossible to find the employment they needed in order to avoid being sent back to prison.

I laughed with them about how they had picked a great two years to take a vacation because of the recession. But then I shared their discouragement about the catch 22 of needing to find a job to stay out of prison when few employers want to hire ex-offenders in this economy.

This reality points to the continuing Faithventure Forum argument about the need for Christ-following business people to use their skills to create employment opportunities for ex-offenders. Finding a job is the number one factor that prevents ex-offenders from returning to prison.

And this experience also shows that the prison system still doesn’t understand how to hold ex-offenders accountable to finding jobs in an environment where almost all low-skilled workers are finding it difficult to find work. The state needs to come up with a new accountability matrix that evaluates effort towards finding a job, provides a network of employers willing to hire, and partners with non-profit service providers who offer transitional employment opportunities. A new comprehensive approach will actually save Colorado the $40,000 a year it costs to incarcerate an individual by preventing returns to prison.

As for our two friends back from prison, we are sad that we don’t have any program openings right now. But we’re praying that someone in our network will be able to provide an opportunity until we do.

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