Ex-offenders who are employed are much less likely to return to prison than those who can't find jobs, according to a presentation by representatives for state and federal probation and parole at the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce First Friday Coffee.
Nationally, around 650,000 inmates are released from confinement each year and 67 percent will return within three years, said Brian Gray of the U.S. Probation Office. When unemployed, ex-offenders are four times more likely to commit a crime that sends them back to jail, he said.
Keeping one healthy, young inmate behind bars costs around $29,000 per year, Gray said. Older inmates can cost three times that amount. From a fiscal standpoint, he said, it's important to the community to connect potentially skilled workers with jobs.
Aside from saving the cost of incarceration, there are benefits to employers, Gray said. Potential employees are screened by probation, assessed for job skills and continually drug tested. Their probation officers can serve as a third-party contact to assist with any performance problems. There are federal programs and tax credits available to employers who will take the chance, he said.
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit provides up to a $2,400 credit to employers who hire recently released offenders. The Federal Bonding Program provides a minimum of $5,000 in free insurance to protect employers against acts of dishonesty.
Sharon Derrington of Missouri State Probation and Parole said there are 1,078 residents of Cape Girardeau County on state or federal probation or parole. The typical parolee, she said, did not commit a violent crime. More likely, he or she passed a bad check or failed to pay child support.
"Basically, they look like you and me," Derrington said. "Really, our biggest predictor of success is them working."
June O'Dell of the Workforce Investment Board of Southeast Missouri said the Cape Girardeau branch of the Missouri Career Center offers specialized resources to ex-offenders and employers to help support the process. Employers who provide paid on-the-job training, she said, can be eligible for reimbursement of 50 percent of wages through the On-the-Job Training Program.
Gray wasn't encouraging employers to put ex-offenders in the hiring line before other potential employees, but he hoped employers would "let them stand in the line."
"If we close too many doors, the one that's open is back to prison," Gray said.
Bug Zero pest control of Cape Girardeau and Southeast Missouri State University Athletics co-sponsored the event.
For more information on hiring ex-offenders, contact the Workforce Investment Board of Southeast Missouri at 334-0990 or the Missouri Career Center at 290-5766.
1333 N Sprigg St, Cape Girardeau, Mo.