A proposal to support inmates returning to the citizen workforce is being considered by state lawmakers. The measure guarantees that prisoners are bonded by the federal government upon release.
The U.S. Department of Labor provides Fidelity Bonds that guarantee honesty for hard-to-place job seekers who are deemed to be at risk. The bonds cover the first six months of employment at no cost to the applicant or the employer.
The proposal further guarantees that working inmates are certified in a given field. A review process would determine which jobs would be eligible for certification, and ensure that any inmate who completes the necessary requirements receives certification.
Inmates who work jobs that aren’t eligible for certification would be given a certificate that would list training received, hours worked and skills acquired on the job.
The House Subcommittee on Corrections Workforce Environment and Conduct held a Thursday hearing on the proposal which is sponsored by Representative Brandon Ellington (D-Kansas City).
Convicted felon and St. Louis resident Rachel Grieder spoke before the committee, saying she’s been rejected by so many employers that she’s thought about returning to life as a drug dealer.
“It triggers my mind to go back to what I’m familiar with, to sell the drugs, to do the illegal things” said Greider. “As a mother, if you don’t have the money to feed your kids, you don’t know what to do. You’re going to go to what you’re familiar with.”
Hedy Hardin of Missouri Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE) said the measure’s necessary because freed inmates face so many obstacles.
“Returning citizens need all the help we can provide them to become productive and honest wage earners and tax payers rather than a drain on society’s resources.”
Jeanette Mott Oxford of Empower Missouri thinks the measure would give incarcerated people resources and hope when they’re freed.
“A lot of people that are in prison have been so used to failing, that they just think ‘Well I’m just going to wind back up in here’, and it affects what choices they make once they get out” said Mott Oxford. “If you are surrounded with a more positive climate that says ‘Here’s some things that you can do to become more employable’, if someone meets you with an attitude that says you are bright and you have gifts that can be nurtured, it’s all how people are treated. I think this would change the focus inside, and would give people a different attitude as they leave.”
No one spoke in opposition to the measure. It’s aimed at reducing the recidivism rate of offenders incarcerated in Missouri. Figures complied in 2015 show 46 percent of former inmate return to crime.
The committee could vote on the proposal upon returning from a week long recess in the legislative session.