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November 16, 2006
Career Criminals Re-enter the Workforce

by Bradley Hope
Until he was 43 years old Anthony Malpica never had a job.

He had, however, been a career criminal since the age of 15, a persistent drug user, and homeless, he said in an interview yesterday.

A phone call to the Doe Fund, a nonprofit group that helps the homeless and formerly incarcerated get jobs, on a particularly bad day led him onto a different path, he said. With some tips about r?sum?s and access to a phone, he went from a career lock breaker to a career lock fixer. He is now a locksmith at a company in Queens, clean of drugs for nine years, and married, he said.

"Anything is possible with some help, and with a willingness," he said.

Every year about 27,000 prisoners are let free from state prisons and another 100,000 from local jails, yet two-thirds of them re-enter the criminal justice system within three years, according to a report by the Independent Committee on Reentry and Employment set to be released next week. Of those who are arrested one year after they are released, 60% are unemployed, and of those who violate parole or probation, 89% are unemployed, the report says

The committee, which is led by the founder and president of the Doe Fund, George McDonald, was charged by the state of New York's criminal justice coordinator, Chauncey Parker, in early 2005 to come up with a list of recommendations for the state.

The report calls on the state to provide a $25 million wage subsidy program for businesses that hire formerly incarcerated people, improve skill training for inmates of prisons and jails, as well as create a new State Commissioner of Reentry, among other changes.

Aside from the humanitarian gains, getting more formerly incarcerated people into the workforce after they leave prison will save taxpayers $3.615 million per 100 inmates by keeping them off welfare, out of prisons, and paying child support, the report says.

This is the final frontier of public safety," Mr. McDonald said. "It's a new approach. If you find a way to employ folks as they come home from prison or jail, you're going to cut down on the recidivism of crime."

Using focus groups, the committee found widespread bias against formerly incarcerated people at businesses around the city. Many businesses, especially those led by Caucasian women, said they would fear theft or the safety of other employees if they hired people with a criminal record. Businesses led by African-American men were more open to the idea of hiring them, the report says.

To overcome this problem, the committee says the state should give educational seminars to employers and increase job training and job preparation of inmates, as well as provide the wage subsidy program. The committee says the subsidy would pay for itself if the recidivism rate is reduced by 2%.

"The failure to plan for their reintegration has directly contributed to and will continue to perpetuate other devastating societal problems, including unemployment, poverty, crime, broken families, substance abuse, and homelessness," the report says.

A spokeswoman for Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer, Christine Anderson, said the governor-elect hasn't read the report but that he is an advocate of enhancing New York State's reentry programs.

Mr. Parker said the report had already been circulated among law enforcement officials. Though crime is down over the last 12 years, he said the state has made it a priority to increase the employment rate of former convicts.

Several other states, including Florida, have made similar changes over the last years.

"It seems like it's set up like a revolving door," a field operations director for the Doe Fund and former career criminal, Craig Trotta, 45, said. "When you get out, the only thing you know is the same people, places, and things you left when you went to prison. It's geared for you to come right back."



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