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Employers are Adjusting to Hiring Ex-Offenders

by Anthony Accurso

A recent look at how Indianapolis companies are adjusting to hiring ex-offenders highlights opportunities and challenges for the newly released around the country.

Nationally, the prison population has decreased 1.3 percent from 2017 to 2018, but in some states, prison populations are on the rise. Indiana saw a 3.3 percent increase over the same period. At the same time, unemployment has dropped in the last five years from 6 percent to 3 percent. This confluence of statistics means that employers are incentivized to hire and adapt their workplaces to accommodate individuals who have been convicted of crimes.

“This is the most felon-friendly time in my 20 years of doing this work,” said Gregg Keesling, president of Recycle Force, a business that specifically hires ex-offenders. Lena Hackett, president of Community Solutions, said wages are on par with those who don’t have a criminal record, and the formerly incarcerated can expect to earn between minimum wage and $16 an hour.

More employers are willing to consider hiring ex-offenders than ever before. The number of such job openings has almost tripled in three years in Indiana, outpacing the number of prepared candidates who can fill such positions.

Not everyone who is released from prison is immediately able to adapt to working full time after languishing behind bars.

“Many of these folks — to report to a job every day and do a full day’s work and then leave — that is all new to them. It’s a whole different cultural shock,” said Janet South, president of DECO Coatings. Employers have to accommodate schedules with parole meetings, drug tests, and probation officer visits — which can be randomly ordered on short notice — so DECO has started maintaining records of how to contact probation officers and case managers.

Recycle Force has instructed its employees who have ankle monitors to leave the work area and call their case manager if the device has difficulty detecting a GPS signal and triggers an alarm.

Ex-offenders must demonstrate a good attitude, a willingness to learn, and maintain good attendance, but supervisors are having to adjust also, understanding that many ex-offenders may be suffering from trauma endured in prison.

As more employers gain experience in hiring and managing ex-offenders, hopefully best practices will spread and encourage more business to do so. Scott Whiting, of Allegiance Staffing, thinks ex-offenders are a good bet for companies in this economy. “Maybe it’s better to hire someone who’s paid their dues than someone who hasn’t been caught yet.” 

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Sources: usatoday.com, Indianapolis Star

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