Local employers were given an opportunity Tuesday morning to hear presentations from state employees and fellow business owners about the benefits and challenges of implementing practices of offering employment to individuals who have been previously incarcerated.
The HIRE (Hiring Initiative for Reentry Employment) event was held at the Farmington Public Library.
Speaking at the hiring conference were Ken Chapman of the Missouri Department of Corrections, District Probation and Parole Supervisor Cora Haynes, Department of Economic Development Industry Training Specialist Lamont Brown and a panel of local employers who shared their experiences related to hiring prior offenders.
Chapman provided the employers with information on the training available to incarcerated individuals, making them solid candidates for employment following their release from prison.
“Governor Parson has come out with two major initiatives,” Chapman said. “One is infrastructure and the other is workforce development. When we look at workforce development and developing systems to get our people jobs prior to their release from prison — that also affects infrastructure because we’re not having to build more prisons, and that’s a big deal. Prisons are expensive.”
Chapman said in the process of involving employers in the discussion of hiring previous offenders, the question must first be who they are not willing to hire in order to find common ground and progress from there.
“We’re very cognizant that there’s some of our clients that we don’t want working in certain populations, so we want to be good stewards of that,” Chapman said. “We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing because, ultimately, everybody’s job in this room is improving lives for safer communities.
“That’s our vision as a department: improving lives for safer communities. That makes everybody better, healthier and it creates what we think in Missouri is probably a ‘best in the Midwest’ concept for what we want to do with workforce development.”
With between 18,000 and 20,000 incarcerated individuals being released annually in Missouri, Chapman said it’s important to inform employers of the training and potential possessed by the members of that population, as evidenced by testing for the National Career Readiness certificate.
“We tested over 2,000 incarcerated men and women with a 94 percent success rate, with no remediation,” he said. “We’re not training them to take the test, they’re taking it cold. That shoots a lot of public schools out of the water. Obviously, our men and women are not uninformed or untrainable. They create an opportunity for our state to be safe, on the cutting edge and to fill the shortages in the workforce that we have right now.”
Chapman said the Department of Corrections offers 21 career and technical training programs for incarcerated individuals, with a wide range of focuses.
“We need to be out in front and to provide a national model for what these kind of initiatives look like,” he said. “We’re excited. This opportunity is huge for us, in getting information out there to see who hits on it and who doesn’t.”
The attendees also heard from Brown about potential benefits and risk mitigation available through the work opportunity tax credit and federal bonding program. Although neither is specifically tailored for previously incarcerated employees, those employees can qualify an employer to take advantage of those resources.
Last on the day’s agenda was a discussion panel made up of two local employers, Botkin Lumber and Piramal Glass, which both hire previously incarcerated individuals.
East Missouri Action Agency L.I.F.E. Program Coordinator Rob Baker said the conference’s attendance and discussion should be an encouraging indicator for Missouri’s workforce.
“There was a little bit of speculation about whether or not we’d get businesses that wanted to hear about offender reentry to attend, but we had a nice roomful of local employers and community partners in attendance today,” Baker said. “I think the information they heard was powerful.”
With the lineup of speakers and presenters present, Baker said those in attendance had access to good information that could positively affect hiring trends.
“I think they learned from the Department of Corrections about some great things that offenders have some opportunities for behind the fences,” he said. “They heard a powerful testimony of an individual who was given an opportunity and was very successful in their community. They also heard from some businesses that shared their successes and challenges in hiring folks who have a criminal past — but given the opportunity, those workers turn out to be very productive.”
The HIRE event was made possible by East Missouri Action Center, the Park Hills Missouri Job Center and SEMO Behavioral Health.
Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at email@example.com.