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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Rough road to redemption

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DaVinci Richardson has been very busy since his release from a state prison.

On a dreary and rainy day, he leaves the Indianapolis Training Center after a city-sponsored community forum on re-entry programs for ex-offenders.

“Seemed like a good idea, but they didn’t have any employers ready to hire anyone,” Richardson says calmly as he walks into the parking lot to wait for his wife.

Richardson’s journey to find a job takes him to a nearby business, where he walks in with a folder full of papers and approaches a manager at the counter.

“Hello, I’m here to apply for a position,” Richardson says with a friendly smile and professional demeanor. “I’d like to submit an application, and here’s my resume.”

After reviewing Richardson’s information for a few seconds, the manager gives a response that is pleasant, but uncommitted.

“We’re not hiring at this time, but thanks for your interest,” she says with a superficial smile. “We’ll hold on to your information and call if anything becomes available.”

Richardson thanks the woman and leaves as quietly as he entered.

“I’ve heard that line before. They aren’t trying to talk to me,” Richardson says.

Obtaining employment is not easy for Richardson, who served time for a drug related felony offense. He had successfully applied for a position at a hospital, but after it was discovered he had a conviction, the job offer was rescinded and Richardson, who has a college degree and experience in health care, was told the hospital could only hire people who have been out of prison for at least five years.

“I’ve been out for over a month and still can’t get a job,” Richardson says.

Unfortunately Richardon’s situation is not unique, and a majority of men and women leaving prison are having a hard time securing employment, which is essential to them becoming stable and productive citizens.

Having a criminal record that follows them everywhere they go is difficult for ex-offenders, but they are also being challenged by trends in the economy.

Millions of Americans are out of work, and the unemployment rate in Indiana has now reached double digits (10 percent) for the first time in 25 years, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

The recession is forcing ex-offenders to compete for jobs more often with people who have no criminal record and more work experience. This is especially true for the service industry, manufacturing and warehousing, the three sectors of the economy where many ex-offenders were once able to find employment.

African-American men, who already have an unemployment rate that is almost twice as high as the national average, face very strong obstacles if they are coming out of prison.

Only 45 percent of Black males who have been incarcerated are finding stable employment, according to a recent joint study conducted by researchers Harry J. Holzer of the Georgetown Urban Institute, Steven Raphael of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California-Berkeley and Michael A. Stoll of the School of Public Policy and Social Research at the University of California-Los Angeles.

“Among the most challenging situations they face is that of reentry into the labor market,” the researchers wrote. “Employment rates and earnings of ex-offenders are low by almost any standard – though in most cases they were fairly low even before these individuals were incarcerated.”

The researchers noted that many employers are skittish about hiring ex-offenders because of the characteristics that some of them have. Almost 70 percent are high school dropouts, have limited education and or had prior convictions that prevented them from maintaining a strong record of work experience.

Organizations in the Indianapolis area that help ex-offenders find jobs agree that lack of employment is a major obstacle for individuals who have paid their debt to society and are ready to start over as productive, contributing citizens.

“In our experience people who are trying to rebuild their lives after prison have trouble getting a job, which they need desperately,” said Sharon Jones of Voice in the Wilderness, an organization that serves residents in the United Northwest neighborhood of the city’s near Westside. “If they have a stable source of income, at least they have a way to the means to pay for things like housing, transportation and child support.”

Dale Hinshaw agrees that locating a job is a problem area leaders must work together to address to prevent people from turning back to criminal choices out of desperation.

“During good economic times it took someone out of prison an average of three-to-six months,” said Hinshaw, director of Chaplains at Work, a faith-based organization that helps ex-offenders make a smooth transition from prison to normal life. “Now, in this economy, it can take an ex-felon anywhere from nine-to-12 months.”

Next week: Solutions proposed by city officials, organizations and ex-offenders.

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