Each year, more than 13,000 citizens return from prison to their communities in Michigan. Statistics show that about one-third of them will reoffend. Offenders identify joblessness as their biggest barrier to success, and research shows that unemployment and crime go hand-in-hand. Sending returning citizens back to their communities with no ability to get a job is a recipe for recidivism and a costly mistake. Taxpayers pay about $34,000 a year to incarcerate a single prisoner. Rather than watching returning citizens go back to prison through the revolving door, it makes fiscal sense to invest in helping them find jobs.
On Wednesday, May 20, Piper Kerman, author of "Orange is the New Black," will deliver the keynote address at a breakfast program in Detroit for employers to make the business case for hiring returning citizens.
Employers who have acted out of what U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez calls "enlightened self-interest" by hiring felons have found success. From Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland to Butterball Farms in Michigan, employers have found that returning citizens make diligent and loyal employees. These employees are highly motivated to perform well in the workplace because they are so grateful for a job opportunity despite a felony on their record.
Of course, not every felon is a good fit for every job. But when applicants must check a box indicating that they are felons, the hiring process screeches to a halt. They have paid their debt to society by completing their prison sentence, but find that they are required to keep paying even after their release.
Successful employers have adopted a different practice, interviewing candidates for jobs first and conducting background checks later. A felony conviction prompts further conversations, but does not close the door to employment. Not all felonies are created equal. While violent felonies may preclude some job opportunities, certain non-violent offenses may merit further inquiry.
Lawmakers understand the public safety and fiscal benefits of finding jobs for returning citizens. New federal and state laws encourage employers to hire returning citizens by providing tax incentives for hiring felons and bonding to protect employers from liability.
If we are to reduce crime, we need to find jobs for our returning citizens. Otherwise, we will all continue to pay their debt to society.
Barbara L. McQuade
United States Attorney
Eastern District of Michigan