With an unemployment rate near record levels, finding a job can be difficult. When you’ve served time in prison, the odds against you increase exponentially.
There are more than 6 million ex-prisoners in the United States, according to a recent study, with 600,000 added to the total every year. Research suggests the best way to keep them from landing behind bars again is to reinvest in them, which includes finding them employment , but most business owners are reluctant to give them a shot.
Some, though, take the chance.
Taking a chance
Chicago paper company owner Jim Andrews has hired dozens of ex-offenders in his 14 years in the business. He encourages other employers not to make a snap judgment based on the fact that someone served jail time.
"There are a lot of good people that are coming out of prison. Let’s not brand these people and make it harder for them," Andrews told BusinessNewsDaily. "The ones that want to stay out of jail and make a better life for themselves just work harder. They don’t want to go back and sit in prison.”
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Impressed by the ex-convicts he hired, Andrews opted to build an entire business around them. He launched Felony Franks in Chicago in 2009. The hot dog stand has a menu featuring items like the "Misdemeanor Weiner" and "Pardon Polish."
It’s been so successful that Andrews is attempting to raise money to finance expansion around the country, creating jobs for more ex-offenders.
Rebecca Sauter, founder of Project Reentry, a North Carolina-based program that helps ex-offenders readjust to life, said it’s important to interview the candidate about his or her past to see if that person is a good fit.
"Be very mindful if they are taking responsibility for their past actions," Sauter said.
A 'last chance'
John Shegerian, CEO of Electronic Recyclers International, has been providing jobs to ex-offenders for nearly 20 years, and, like Andrews, sees it as a good investment.
"We give people second chances, third chances and most times a last chance," Shegerian said, adding he currently employs about 60 ex-offenders at ERI.
Hiring workers who know they can't afford to slip up usually pays off for his business, Shegerian says.
"You should see the type of day-to-day and minute-to-minute effort they give," he said "People just want a chance to feel the love and structure of a job that wants them."
Many employers, Shegerian said, fear having to fire an ex-offender if it doesn’t work out ― but he said that in his experience, nothing bad happens if they’re terminated.
"There are no crazy scenes like people see in the movies," he said.
Without employers who are willing to give them job opportunities, Shegerian said, the chances of ex-offenders staying out of jail are slim.
"Most likely if they don't get a job in short order, they are going to go back to doing what they know best – and that usually is not something good,” he said.
Look for 'responsibility'
Sauter said getting into a normal routine of working and bringing in money on a regular basis is critical for ex-offenders’ success.
A 2006 study concluded that 67 percent of ex-offenders will return to prison within three years; another study showed 89 percent of those who violate terms of their parole are unemployed at the time.
"There is a lot of pressure to start contributing financially to the household," Sauter said. "Employment is going to help them pay for some of those basic needs."
In many instances, Sauter said, employers who started out skeptical are pleasantly surprised at the work ethic of the ex-offender they hire.
"They know what it is like on the other side, so they know they don't want to go back," Sauter said. "They know they always have to prove themselves."
There are no guarantees, but Sauter said she’d encourage employers not to immediately eliminate a job candidate who came from prison.
"Try to understand why they broke the law, and what they have done since then to make sure it doesn't happen again," she said.
Employers who don't feel comfortable doing so should point ex-offenders to a business that does, Sauter said.
"Direct them someplace they can get hired," Sauter said. Help support their job search. "
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