In the 1990s, states went on a prison-building binge. Today, reports NPR, millions who spent time behind bars are back in society, and many are struggling to find work. Jay Neal is in charge of Georgia’s new office of inmate re-entry. Its purpose is clear: “Helping Georgia’s returning citizens find training, assisting Georgia’s returning citizens find jobs.” Returning citizens is the nation’s new term for ex-prisoners, ex-cons and former inmates. Six-hundred thousand of these citizens return to society each year, including 20,000 in Georgia, which has the country’s fifth-largest prison system.
“We think it’s important that we change the conversation,” Neal says. “We’re committed to using that dialogue throughout.” Last year, Georgia spent $17 million and got $6 million in federal grants to help reduce the rate of recidivism. Already, there’s skills training in prison, more caseworkers in six counties and more help once a prisoner is released. Last week, the White House announced another $59 million in grants to support job training for ex-offenders. It’s a complex undertaking, Neal says, and government can’t do it all. “We’ve gotta be able to provide meaningful employment for them,” he says. “That doesn’t happen without businesses that are willing to give them jobs.”