The Daily Record: A win for Baltimore

Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on on December 15, 2016.

Each year, an estimated 10,000 men and women are released from incarceration and return to Baltimore, often to the very neighborhoods where they resided prior to being arrested.

Despite some misconceptions, the majority of these returning citizens have no interest in getting involved with the crime cycle again.

They earnestly want to put the missteps of the past behind them, get on their feet and integrate back into society. To get on firm ground when they are released, however, they need the basics: a place to live, food, and, most important of all, a job.

In fact, there’s a body of research that confirms that landing a job as soon as possible after release from incarceration, or re-entry,  is a critical cornerstone to rebuilding a life and staying clear of crime.

“Virtually every expert and study on reducing recidivism agrees that a linchpin for returning citizens to break this cycle is obtaining stable employment as quickly as possible,” notes a new report by the Greater Baltimore Committee, “Opening Doors to a Second Chance: Removing barriers and cultivating job opportunities for returning citizens and job seekers with a criminal background.”

The report was developed over the past year by the Coalition for a Second Chance, a group of 24 experts from the public and private sectors convened by the Greater Baltimore Committee to examine barriers to employment for ex-offenders and public policy and other initiatives that could remove or help to overcome them.

One of the many compelling facts in the report underscores just how critical employment is for these returning citizens: “The probability of re-conviction for someone who is employed within two months of release and earning $10 or more per hour is only 8 percent, one-third of the probability of an unemployed ex-offender.”

That finding comes from a study by the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Research Center.

But here is the rub: The challenges these citizens encounter in obtaining a job quickly – even at an entry-level wage — are many indeed, the GBC report found.

The challenges and barriers range from lack of transportation and housing to employer reluctance and discriminatory hiring practices. To some returning citizens the barriers seem – and can be – insurmountable.

Imagine tackling any of these obstacles on your own with little money and little, if any, professional support. The emotional weight alone could be crushing.

Getting a fair shake

Fortunately, there’s a movement afoot to break down the barriers and modify the negative misconceptions toward returning citizens to afford them a fair shake at a second chance.

Local employers with a history of providing this pool of potential workers the chance at a job and an opportunity to prove themselves have found there can be many upsides.

Danko Arlington Inc., a family-owned defense parts manufacturer in Park Heights, is among the employers who have had success with ex-offenders. John Danko, president of the company, says he’s found such employees to be very loyal and eager to learn. He’s convinced this pool of workers deserve a fair shot at opportunities.

To ensure this happens on a greater scale than currently exist in Baltimore, the GBC’s Coalition for a Second Chance is embarking on a sustained effort to see the recommendations outlined in the report take hold.

The report is a blueprint to bring the collective community — the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors — together to effectively open pathways for returning citizens to secure meaningful employment and eliminate the discrimination and barriers that block those paths to opportunity.

In short, the blueprint is meant to build a strong bridge from jail to jobs.

It includes steps the public sector can take, such as designating a statewide Office of Reentry within the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Service, creating a Reentry Peer Recovery Network and increasing the focus on hiring individuals with a criminal background in government positions.

Businesses’ role

The private sector is an integral part of this plan as well. The business community is called on to take a much more engaged role in opening doors, such as: signing the Fair Chance Pledge to ensure that criminal records are considered in a proper context during hiring decisions; helping to debunk the myths of hiring ex-offenders; and accepting the role that business has in reducing recidivism.

There’s a lot of private- and public-sector coordination and commitment needed ahead to implement the recommendations in the GBC report.

But there’s no real downside to any of this. A returning citizen stabilized by a job can lead to more stable families and communities, and a reduction in recidivism.

Indeed, the fact is that increasing opportunities for ex-offenders would be a win for these returning citizens, a win for employers and a win for the overall economic health of the region. This is an outcome worth working toward.

Donald C. Fry is President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a frequent contributor to The Daily Record.