Monday, September 29, 2008

The Importance of Re-Entry

My student Billy Minshall has just directed my attention to a short piece by Jeff Adachi, the public defender for San Francisco, on today's Examiner. Adachi is referring to a special event on re-entry today. Among other things, he writes:

Every year, more than 137,000 parolees are released in California, including 2,400 who return to San Francisco. Of these, only 21 percent are expected to successfully complete parole. Most, like Jesse, have low levels of education, reside in poor neighborhoods and lack basic marketable job skills. With the advent of online criminal background checks, many are eliminated before they are even considered for employment.

Employers are understandably reluctant to hire offenders. Some jobs — such as transport, teaching, and child or patient care — automatically bar offenders. Employers may also fear legal liability if an offender commits a crime while employed. In a recent survey of employers, less than 40 percent said that they would consider hiring an offender.

So, what can be done to help a formerly incarcerated man or woman who wants to work and avoid the revolving prison doors?

The answer is stunningly simple: convince employers to hire offenders.

Not an easy task, but one that can be facilitated through Supervisor Mirkarimi's plan to insure employers prepared to participate. Given the rates of incarceration, this should really be a top priority.

On the same topic, Jennifer Gonnerman's new book Life on the Outside documents the re-entry challenges faced by Elaine Bartlett upon her release from prison. The book's website is a good resources for those of us seeking to connect the broad re-entry issue with a particular human face and story.

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