- Posted March 24, 2011 by
NOLA and OXFORD, Miss.
Employment upon release
Employment upon release
By NEAL MOORE
NEW ORLEANS, La. and OXFORD, Miss. (CNN iReport) –
I met up with WriteAPrisoner.com founder and president, Adam Lovell, on the streets of NOLA to discuss a program he offers titled “Back to Work” -- a meeting of the minds, as it were, between pen pals, employers, and the soon-to-be released ex-offenders.
“I believe it’s really important for us to be interacting with each other,” explained first-time pen pal Noah Smith, who recently linked up with his prison pen pal through Adam’s site. “Everybody knows it’s really hard to stay out of prison once you’ve been there and I believe a big factor is that prisoners don’t have help from society. They don’t have a good way to make a decent living. So working, and learning how to work and learning how to be an effective, profitable person in society is mandatory.”
Which prospect, without help from the outside or an understanding employer, can be a daunting uphill for the average ex-offender, due to the “stigma” that will follow, post prison, for the remainder of their lives.
For some solid background on the topic I reached out to Dr. Linda Keena of the University of Mississippi’s Legal Justice Department, an expert on the subject of recidivism who has spent a good deal of time both researching and teaching the subject.
“On the employers’ side, there are some that are not even legally able to employ ex-prisoners,” explained Dr. Keena. “And then there are some employers that are reluctant to hire an ex-prisoner because they are fearful that their behavior may have an adverse effect on another employee or a customer.”
In a tough, recession-era economy, many observers might ask, why encourage or promote jobs for ex-offenders versus jobs for law abiding citizens?
A possible answer may be summed up in the uncanny correlation between 10% unemployment in America meets an equal 10% of American males who will at some point in their lives find themselves incarcerated. In other words, on both fronts, there is a lot of progress to be made.
According to the Urban Institute (via the Bureau of Justice), the following numbers ring true:
· Approximately 650,000 state and federal prisoners reenter society each year;
· About half of all former prisoners are returned to prison for a new crime or parole violation within 3 years;
· At any given time, approximately 750,000 ex-prisoners are on parole supervision;
· About 1.5 million children have a parent in prison.
Sure, there are a number of reasons not to communicate with, mentor or employ an ex-offender, but when you look at the population, do the math, and consider the consequences, the real question is: can we afford not to?
Featured in this story:
Adam Lovell, Founder and President, WriteAPrisoner.com
Noah Smith, Pen Pal
Dr. Linda Keena, Dept. of Legal Studies, University of Mississippi
The Urban Institute: http://www.urban.org/Pressroom/prisonerreentry.cfm
Dr. Harry Holzer’s multi-city study (quoted by Dr. Linda Keena). Dr. Holzer, from Michigan State, was the lead researcher. While the study was conducted in 1990s, it has not been replicated nor has a similar study been conducted. Atlanta, Boston, LA and Detroit were the cities surveyed. The ICPSR was the funding source for the study.
UPDATE: The following Q & A with Adam Lovell is an update on the past, present, and future of WriteAPrisoner.com's "Back to Work" program:
Neal Moore: Can you speak about why you started your “Back to Work” program? What was your thinking?
Adam Lovell: I started it because we had had a lot of requests for help with finding employment upon release. It was something we initially didn’t think we could do much with, but we looked at how successful we’d been in the pen pal department and thought we should actually try this concept out to see how it went, to see what the requests looked like on the inside and see what the support looked like on the outside.
Neal Moore: Since we last spoke on camera, do you have any new numbers to report? Can you speak to the progress of the program?
Adam Lovell: We’ve actually being inundated with back to work requests from inmates – there are many inmates turning to us to post resumes online who feel they have no other outlet. These are inmates who are coming out within the year – and we’re being swamped and as such we’re diligently working to find more employers to pick these guys up. What we’re doing is recruiting pen pals to help inmates via a “Back to Work” self-help pack we’ve put together where the pen pal can actually go through a step by step process with the inmate to help them better prepare for employment before release – and in some cases even seek out eligible jobs in the area where the [former] inmate intends to reside.
Neal Moore: Is it possible to highlight one or two success stories?
Adam Lovell: We’ve received some pretty inspiring feedback from former inmates. One guy from Manchester, Kentucky said that this program as a whole saved his life upon release because he was not only able to find work, he was able to find support from the community outside before hitting the streets and as such actually felt like he was able to contribute to the society as a whole. Another lady from Georgia specifically used the “Back to Work” program and was able to secure employment prior to release. So there are some people that are finding work before they even make it outside. But in the cases where we’re unable to do that we’re still working to help inmates be prepared to actually interview for a job - we’re helping them find clothing from the Goodwill, the Salvation Army, that sort of thing. We’re helping them with their ID cards, with public transportation schedules. When I say “we” I mean, as a whole, the people up here at Writeaprisoner.com. We’re steering our pen pals into doing this. So this is how we’re tackling the problem because there are so many people looking for work and there are not enough employers – there are not enough employers for regular old people -- so we’re attempting this approach.
Neal Moore: Just to sort of wrap my head around this – What do the numbers look like in regards to employment successes? Also, how would you describe a typical employer who is willing to recruit an ex-offender?
The employers are both small and large. We’ve actually just put together an extended list of corporate employers who are hiring inmates, who have specifically mentioned they are willing to hire inmates. We’ve put together this little “Back to Work Honor Roll” where we highlight these guys:
VIEW THE LIST HERE: http://www.writeaprisoner.com/back-to-work/BTWHonorRoll.aspx
What we tend to personally do is grab the links to inmates who are going to be in the their area, who are coming home soon. And we’ll send them an email with that information in it. From there we lose touch, success rate-wise, once it gets between the employer and the inmate. So we don’t actually have hard data on this yet – but acquiring that data is something we’re looking into for our next phase.
Neal Moore: What are your goals and objectives, looking forward, for “Back to Work”? In a perfect world, so to speak, where would you like to see the program go, who you would like to see it inspire?
Adam Lovell: I would like to see it inspire employers in particular – the more that we reach the better off we’re going to be. There’s no doubt that we’re always going to be the underdog in the sense that we’re always going to have more inmates looking for work than we’re going to have employers offering work. But that’s okay – we’re going to find the balance. Something that we really want to expand on, that we actually have expanded on quite a bit, is encouraging people on the site to provide resume assistance – and we’re succeeding with that – we’re currently at about 1 in 6. So there’s a really big desire – we’re wanting to help out our base, the inmates who are seeking to find employment, and of course the employers. The more employers we can bring to the table, the better.