The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently published an article in which it reports that the shortage of available labor is opening up employment opportunities for people who have served time in prison. This is good news not only for the former convicts but also for society at large. The article reports that close to 60% of Minnesota inmates are back in prison within two years of their release. Giving former offenders the ability to work with dignity is perhaps the best way to insure that inmates do not re-offend and return to prison. We at Mankey Law Office have been asserting this for years. It should surprise no one that people return to prison when employers refuse to hire former inmates. In a country that incarcerates more people per capita than any other industrialized country it is imperative that former offenders be given at least an opportunity to lead a productive lives.
If we are to pay more than token lip service to the concept that a goal of the criminal justice system is more than simply to punish the offender, if we believe that rehabilitation is part of the process, employment, affordable housing, access to mental health and health care are essential to realizing the goal of returning offenders to society in productive roles. For far too long ex-convicts have been denied even a chance at rehabilitation in large part due to the common practice of employers to run routine background checks made possible by the internet and disqualify folks who have criminal records.
As the article points out, often the former offenders are so appreciative of the opportunity they have been afforded that they are frequently outstanding employees. Obviously this trend benefits the offenders but what is often lost on those who wish to perennially punish offenders by stigmatizing them, this really is a win/win. Society benefits by reducing the number of ex-convicts who re-offend leading to less public expenditures in maintaining large prison populations. It costs approximately $30,000 per year to house a federal inmate.
These types of programs are particularly beneficial for those whose crimes were drug related. We believe that drug offenders should be treated outside the criminal justice system. Addiction is a disease and as such the stigma associated with serving time is especially harsh for those whose drug offenses were victimless. Dignity through work will increase the chances that the drug offenders will maintain sobriety and contribute to society. We commend the companies and organizations mentioned in the Star Tribune article and encourage other companies to follow their lead. Hopefully this trend will continue.