Local Business Group Advises Creating More Work Opportunities for Ex-Offenders

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Baltimore City would benefit greatly from programs that teach new skills to people who just got out of prison and create incentives for employers to hire them, according to a new report from a local business group.

Opening Doors to a Second Chance,” released today by the Greater Baltimore Committee, outlines strategies for boosting economic development in Baltimore by drawing on an oftentimes ignored source of labor: ex-offenders. The report proposes ways for government and the private and nonprofit sectors to create a cohesive system for reintroducing former prisoners to the city’s workforce.

People who have just gotten out of jail face countless obstacles to becoming productive members of society, oftentimes including a lack of stable housing or transportation, limited training or job experience and a stigma among employers against hiring people who have been arrested or incarcerated, the authors write. Being unable to enter the workforce can lead those individuals back to a life of crime, which contributes to recidivism and further drains the state’s resources and economy.

The group cites figures that show the issue is particularly grave for Baltimore City. According to a 2015 report from the Justice Policy Institute, more than 20,000 people are incarcerated across the state, costing Maryland almost $1 billion a year. Baltimoreans contribute more than a third of the state’s incarcerated population, and taxpayers spend $10 million on average to support inmates from just five communities in the city with the highest incarceration rates.

People awaiting trial who are jailed because they can’t come up with bail account for nearly a fourth of the state’s incarcerated population. Attorney General Brian Frosh has publicly taken on the problem with the cash bail system, and the state’s court system is currently weighing whether to change how courts can assign bail, which would very likely reduce the number of people jailed ahead of trial in the future.

A couple of the solutions the group proposes could reach inmates before they even get out: Improving the case management system for connecting them to outside groups and services for reentry; and not sending them back to join the general population in prison too soon after they have received workforce training and other education, so as not to reverse their progress.

For the private sector, the report’s recommendations include asking employers to sign the “Fair Chance Pledge,” which includes policies that give a fair shot to all job applicants, ex-offenders included, and creating public awareness campaigns for HR staff and other hiring professionals about hiring ex-offenders. The recommendations for the public sector include boosting coordination of services with organizations and creating programs focused on training and hiring people with criminal backgrounds in state and local government entities with job placement specialists.

The group has offered a host of other recommendations that would make for a more cohesive and productive reentry process for Maryland’s former inmates. Above all, their goal is to turn the state’s problematic recidivism into an economic opportunity that would have particularly great effects for the city. Click here to read the full report.

Ethan McLeod
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