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Jobs for Ex-Felons? A City in Michigan Sets an Example

If you have a felony conviction on your record, finding a job when you get out of prison is almost impossible. Few employers want to take that risk. This makes it quite likely that you will reoffend and go back to prison - where at least you will receive a bed and food. Two companies in Grand Rapids, Michigan, have taken steps to address the problem of recidivism in a practical way - they are hiring former prisoners and are encouraging other businesses to do the same.

Employers in Grand Rapids who have participated in the program report that the former inmates are frequently extremely hard workers who want to prove themselves. And the CEO of Butterball, one of the two companies spearheading the effort, reports that not only does the program work, but it saves taxpayer money. Rather than going back to prison after reoffending, individuals returning to the workforce - even at minimum wage jobs - are no longer costing the state money.

Because the jobs available to former prisoners often pay little, the program also leverages public and private social services to ensure that new employees have the safety net they need - food stamps, subsidized housing, training and clothing. By participating in a comprehensive program that includes more than just a job, the companies who hire convicted felons are helping to ensure the success of their new hires.

And the men and women who have held jobs in the Grand Rapids area are usually very grateful that someone is willing to take a chance on them.

Could this work in New Jersey? A recent state program, Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) Program, provides incentives to companies that hire who hire a variety of people with barriers to employment, including ex-felons. Time will tell.

Source: "Grand Rapids-area companies encourage employers to hire former prisoners," Jan. 29, 2012. 

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