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Archive for Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Offenders face an even tougher job market but there is some help in Kansas

September 27, 2011

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How the state helps offenders

Peggy Lero, Kansas Parole Director for the Northern Region, said they take a three-step approach when helping inmates find work:

• Employment workshop: As an ex-offender begins looking for work, they learn how to create resumes and cover letters, answer questions about their offenses, and follow up on interviews.

• Job clubs: While job searching, ex-offenders meet up to share job tips and network for possible jobs.

• Employed group: Once they secure jobs, ex-offenders meet in order to offer peer support and help address any issues they may face out in the working world.

  • The Northern Parole Region consists of the northern half of the state. Lero said they supervise about 2,800 ex-offenders, and the unemployment rate is about 30 percent.

Kara Martin, 33, of Lawrence said she used to get hired on the spot when she’d go to job interviews.

But following her first felony conviction — for identity theft in July — things have changed.

“I have not been able to get my foot past the door,” she said.

Now on probation, Martin is for the first time experiencing the struggles for job seekers with criminal backgrounds in today’s highly competitive job market.

“I have to check that box,” said Martin of the question on job applications that asks if you’ve ever been convicted of a felony.

“When they hear the word ‘felon,’ it becomes a mark,” said Steve Willis, probation officer with Douglas County Community Corrections.

Willis said one of his main tasks is getting probationers back to work. But in the current economic climate, that’s becoming more difficult, he said.

The tight job market leaves employers with more options, and with plenty of applicants without felony convictions, offenders get pushed down the ladder, he said.

“Their options are pretty limited,” said Willis, who estimates that about half the 200 people on his case load have jobs.

Society has an interest in helping offenders get back to work, said Michael Birzer, professor of criminal justice at Wichita State University, as employment is a huge key in preventing re-offending.

“Research has pretty much fleshed that out,” Birzer said. “Without the employment, in three or so years they’ll be back” in the criminal justice system.

But getting employers to consider hiring is a big obstacle. “Many companies won’t even look at them,” he said.

One federal program encourages businesses to take a chance on ex-offenders. As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, businesses can receive up to a $2,400 Work Opportunity Tax Credit if they hire someone convicted of felony in the past year. In Kansas, businesses have applied for more than 1,100 of those tax credits since October 2010, said Joyce Heiman, Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program Manager with the Kansas Commerce Department. Depending on how long a felon works for the business, the 1,100 applications could have saved Kansas companies about $2.8 million.

Despite the tax credits, job seekers with felonies such as Martin are not finding many options. Martin — trying to support a 2-year-old daughter — said the frustration takes a toll.

“It’s very deterring,” she said. “I’ve gotten very depressed.”

Willis said offenders are forced to lower their standards when job searching, taking low-wage jobs they’re overqualified for.

“There are jobs out there,” Willis said. But “not necessarily the jobs they want.”

At this point, Martin said she’ll work just about anywhere. She said she’ll keep job hunting, but if nothing hits, she’ll take advantage of some vocational rehabilitation programs available to ex-offenders. But she knows the black mark from her crime will likely follow her.

“I realize that this is all my fault,” Martin said. But the stigma, and the bind it puts on her job search equate to “more than punishment.”

“All I need is a chance,” she said.

This is part four in a Journal-World series about local employment. To see the other parts, click on the links below:

Part One: Temp Jobs

Part Two: Job Coaches

Part Three: Veterans looking for work

Comments

LogicMan 2 years, 10 months ago

“All I need is a chance”

The obvious: you had that chance, then you did the crime and were caught.

But hopefully these people can find entry level positions. Often that's in dangerous construction jobs, but that segment of the economy is hurting now.

In the distant past the military was a good option, but they are picky too.

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tolawdjk 2 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, they had a chance. Then they took a chance. Oops, they blew a chance. Now they find that employers are not too keen on taking a chance.

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geekin_topekan 2 years, 10 months ago

COmplete your probation, pay your fine,do something constructive, get it expunged, move ahead in life, share your experience with others.

OR

Blame it all on "the man", squeak past probation, do the same thing you've always done it, figure "that wasn't so bad" and the cycle will start all over again.

Your choice. (Yes, you have choices, great ones, as a felon)

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DennisAnderson 2 years, 10 months ago

Good point consumer1. We've changed the headline.

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Angela Heili 2 years, 10 months ago

Natural consequences stink don't they?

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 10 months ago

It's understandable that employers would be reluctant to hire someone with a criminal record.

But as you celebrants of Schadenfreude celebrate, I have one question-- if they can't find employment, what do you expect them to do to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table?

Or do you believe that all crimes should just have a minimum sentence of life imprisonment? After all, increasing the prison population 10-fold couldn't possibly be expensive for taxpayers, could it? It couldn't possibly have a negative effect on the lives of their family members, could it?

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coolhawk 2 years, 10 months ago

Hey cold geniuses. If they can't find a job. Don't be surprised if they don't find you and take your wallet or your life. Haters- do something constructive and help somebody rather than judging. You get off your pompous a__. You are only contributing to the perpetuation of crime rather than helping to fix the problem. These people did the crime, did their time. Now, help them before someone else becomes a victim. You guys are idiots and don't see the big picture. If you can't see it in your own living room while you are watching your big screen tv - it doesn't exist, right? Wait til an unsavory type moves in next door and rocks your world and makes you wake up and smell the roses. I love it when idiots like you get your comeuppance. You are not so right after all, are you? You need to be humbled. That's why there is class crash and we are headed to a revolution. You'll be the first to go down because you aren't tough enough to be anything but a soft, judgemental, idiot with no guts or courage. I can't wait.

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ArtemusReturns 2 years, 6 months ago

I ran across a corrupt politician in Arizona. I pled guilty to a felony I didn't commit because of the Mandatory Minimum Sentencing aspect of it if I lost at trial. I was 55 at the time, no priors, no arrests prior or since. I spent 3 years exposing the prosecutor as a crook. He is out of politics. In another month or two, his disbarment will occur. I hear that he will likely be indicted in the spring. He once bragged of prosecuting over 200,000 felonies in his one term in office. He used MMS to build himself a political resume by destroying people's lives. I've been looking for work for 4 years. Now I'm 61, so I have that hurdle too. I have degrees in finance, business, and engineering. I was once a corporate executive, but now I live on Medicaid. I've sent out well over 500 resumes. I've gotten 5 job offers only to have them retracted when the felony is disclosed.

I would agree with the people here who show some heart. 1 in 31 Americans are now under penal control. Most are white. That isn't just the ghetto anymore. Since the for-profit prison industry launched itself on the back of MMS and prosecutors use MMS to mfr the criminal stats they need for a political career, everyone is at risk.

My case was a DUI auto accident with the most serious injury being a fractured bone in the toe. I had evidence a plenty to contest the charge, including the person with a broken toe being high on heroin and proof of an ER doctor lying.

(You don't get 12 jurors in Arizona except circumstances such as murder. They have been felonizing so much of their population that they had to reduce the jury size to keep from soliciting jurors too often.)

But that wasn't enough to take the risk with an 8 person jury wouldn't take an emotional out. With 2 small children, I couldn't take the chance of 10 years MMS to life. I have no DUI on my record. I was indicted for Agg Assault and can never have this expunged by law. Technically, it is non-dangerous, non-repetitive Agg Assault, but to the world I'm a violent person.

In Arizona, going into a bar is intent to commit a felony. Driving a car afterward is wielding a dangerous weapon. Having an auto accident where anyone is injured in any form whatsoever was (and can still be), the same crime as shooting or stabbing them with the intent to kill them. It is 2 levels below 1st degree murder, and 1 level below child molestation. Think about that next time you go to a happy hour. Look down and see the tiny read dot on your shirt because to one group of people in this country you are their meal ticket.

When a country felonizes ten to fifteen percent of the workforce, it gets expensive for everyone. I used to pay five figures in taxes, now I take 5 figures of other people's money on welfare. I say again, 500 resumes and 5 jobs retracted. That's how much I do not want your money, but people aren't making the connection that if I can't make a living, I'm going to be dipping into their wallets (via welfare) to eat.

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jhawkinsf 2 years, 6 months ago

All the consequences you describe should have been well known, especially to a person with multiple college degrees. Yet knowing that, you still chose to plead guilty to a crime you say you did not commit?
Something doesn't feel right about this whole story. What it sounds more like is that you don't believe what you did was wrong, despite the fact that the law does indeed view your actions as being illegal. What it sounds like is that the consequences of your actions should be known to a person of your education, yet you acted in the unlawful manner anyway.
What you are now experiencing is the natural consequences of your actions. Welcome to the real world.

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