Federal probation officer Scott Anders in St. Louis is the architect of one of the most ambitious jobs-for-felons program in the federal court system, reports the New York Times.
With significant gains in two crucial measurements — number of those employed and of those who stay out of trouble while under supervision — the Eastern District of Missouri’s program has served as a model for state and federal prisoner re-entry programs nationwide. Its mantra is that hiring people with criminal records can be good for business–a tough sell.
Prison-to-work programs are “desperately inadequate,” said Devah Pager, a Harvard sociologist. “At the moment, there’s very little systematic provision of assistance to match ex-offenders with jobs at release.” The Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections said in January said it was “surprised and alarmed” by the system’s failures to curb recidivism with effective re-entry programs, particularly in employment. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons responded with vows to improve.
Prison-reform advocate Pat Nolan of the American Conservative Union said the deficiencies extend beyond teaching skills to perform particular jobs. “It’s getting up on time, cleaning up, showing up when you’re supposed to, putting in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, not pilfering from the cash drawer or the supply room — you know, the basics,” he said.
Making matters more complicated, often the ex-prisoners are young people “who have never had an adult in their life that had a regular job and that they could emulate.” The National Employment Law Project’s “conservative estimate” is that 70 million Americans have some sort of criminal record. Each year nearly 700,000 people emerge from prison. More than half of them will return within three years without having found legal employment.