Convicts leaving incarceration often have a difficult time re-entering the working world because, according to one survey, 65 percent of employers would never consider hiring someone with a felony record. And there are other barriers to employment.
For instance, John SCHWARTZ of Trinity Health-Michigan told the story of one hospital employee who was arrested for a drunk driving offense during his off hours, completely unrelated to work. He served two weeks of jail time, but Schwartz said Michigan’s Public Health Code applies additional penalties to those in the health care field, so that employee won’t be eligible to work a job that provides direct services to patients in a health care field until the year 2028.
“Why does it take so long to get the license back while this individual is not working? What are they going to do?” asked Rep. Klint KESTO (R-Commerce Twp.). His Law and Justice Committee was taking testimony earlier this week about “returning citizens,” convicts who have served their time and are returning to the outside world, and the barriers they face finding jobs.
“At the end of the day, we want to figure out how to hire these people,” Kesto said. “Otherwise, what else are they going to do to be productive members of society? Either (they will) go back to crime or not be productive. And we can’t afford that as a state, society or a community.”
Schwartz pointed out in his testimony that the Public Health Code adds penalties for people in the health care field.
“The punishment may fit the crime, but when the sentence is finished, that punishment doesn’t end,” he said. “If you want to go back into the health care field, you must serve a much longer sentence.”
In discussion with lawmakers, Schwartz said the additional penalties were likely instituted over fears patients might be victimized by those with criminal records. But he contended employers in the health care field would be able to distinguish between prospective employees who present a danger and those who would not.
“Those fears are not necessarily well founded,” he said. “We would ask you to look at those continuing punishments. What we are asking is that as an employer you allow us to make some of those decisions.”
J.T. WEIS, of Abcore Industries which makes reconstituted wood products at a plant in Holland, said about half of his employees are convicted felons. He said the company does that “for the betterment of society.”
“We hire the worst of the worst,” Weis told the committee. “Most are registered sex offenders. The truth is that the ones that come out after 10, 12 or 14 years, those are the ones who are most loyal. Sometimes the worst of the worst are the best of the best.”
Weis called on the state to provide more bridging organizations to aid convicts re-entering society with support programs while they make the transition.
“Fifty dollars, a change of clothes and a bus ticket is not a way to send these people out of prison,” he said.
While his business employs returning convicts, it doesn’t have the resources to provide them with support programs, he said.
“We don’t want to create a bunch of special programs,” he said. His business is small enough it doesn’t even have a human resources department.
Kesto said the need for bridging programs is just one of the areas he’s exploring with his committee. Although Justice and Law does not have a specific piece of legislation in front of it presently, Kesto said he hopes the testimony will generate some ideas for future legislation. He plans to continue taking testimony on the subject for several more weeks.
He said he is definitely interested in eliminating some of those additional penalties contained in the public health code.
In earlier testimony, committee members heard a description of Vocational Village, a program at the Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia. At full capacity, it will provide 165 inmates with vocational and building trades skills.
A second Vocational Village program is planned for Jackson and will provide training programs for more than 200 inmates.
“We want to make sure people are working. We get it. You committed a crime; you did the time,” Kesto said. “And now that you did the time, we have some oversight, some monitoring, fine. But there has to be something else. There has to be a transition. There has to be a rehabilitation to get you into the workforce. And that is what I’m looking at.”