Employment options important part of post-prison re-entry

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Community Development Educator, Amy Greil

Yesterday, in collaboration with Gateway Technical College, Ellsworth Computer Numerical Control operator training completion ceremony featured 11 students whom are now poised to put their specialized skills to work upon re-entry to civil society — after incarceration, that is.

Post-prison re-entry is a period wherein individuals — such as the women who completed the CNC training, are released from incarceration and are tasked with putting their lives back together. These “re-entrant” community members have paid their debt to society and are ready to put their past behind them.

Not only do they have to rejoin a civil society that has largely moved on without them, they join a society that lacks the structure they have known. They need to find/rejoin homes, establish routines, healthy relationships and secure employment despite the interruptions in their work histories.

I have come into contact with many committed individuals working around the many issues associated with post-prison re-entry and I will use this column to explore some of what I’ve learned.

There is a clear ethical debate whether communities are doing enough to bring prison re-entrants back into the mainstream and afford them sufficient opportunities to restart their “pro-social” lives so as to not reoffend and end up back in prison. Recidivism rates remain stubbornly high and it is hard to believe it is solely the fault of the offender.

Also coming clearer to me is that post-prison re-entry has quite a lot to do with economics too.

There is little doubt that a significant and unprecedented worker shortage is being experienced in southeastern Wisconsin. Unemployment rates have moved to record lows and our state’s labor participation rate is among the highest in the nation. Post-prison re-entrants could offer our region new pockets of job-ready individuals as new and old employers keep posting jobs, if communities allow them this chance at employment.

Post-prison re-entry is a public safety debate too because, no surprise, re-entry employment reduces crime: Re-offending rates go down when re-entrants are actively working.

In the Journal of Economics, researcher Samuel Meyers makes a strong argument for successful employment upon re-entry from incarceration.

Meyers undertook intensive research with a population sample consisting of 432 males released over a one year timeframe from Maryland’s state prisons into the Baltimore area.

He found that in every month after the first month, higher average weekly wages in the given month raised the likelihood that an offender who succeeded in avoiding re-arrest will again succeed in avoiding re-arrest in that coming month.

In essence, he concluded that increasing wages reduce recidivism, or repeat offending. The result, then, with regard to participation in crime, employment opportunities matter.

Taken together, it seems to me this post-prison re-entry topic is worth further exploration and broader debate. If employment can put lives back together after incarceration, present a willing workforce and reduce the likelihood of crime, employment has to become a larger part of the solution.

And turns out that they can be.

I invite all employers and hiring authorities in the region to consider attending an upcoming networking event around the issue of re-entry employment. The Southeast Wisconsin Employment Expo is being presented by a range of sponsors and partners from business, state and local government, regional non-profits and many others that wish to connect more local employers with the agencies working to place individuals upon re-entry.

Employer registration can be found here https://re-entryexpo.eventbrite.com.