Task force looks at ways to open the door for low-level felons to gain meaningful employment

07/11/2017 03:39 PM

FRANKFORT – Exploring ways to transition individuals from incarceration to the workforce and addressing the impediment of criminal records was the subject of Tuesday’s Kentucky Work Matters Task Force.

Of the 23,085 persons incarcerated in the state in June 2017, 87 percent had an educational attainment of 12th grade level or less. To combat that, and to help those who are either still incarcerated or in the process of being released, workforce development programs are being studied and instituted to help ex-cons return to the workforce and lead productive lives and not return to prison.

In 2016, Kentucky had a 36-month recidivism rate of 47.7 percent versus a 43.3 percent rate in 2015.

Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley says that there’s a definite relationship between meaningful employment and not returning to the criminal justice system.

“Those that have meaningful employment for a year or more, they recidivate so much less than those who don’t,” Tilley said. “It’s 16 percent for those with a year or more, those who don’t, that recidivism rate jumps to fifty-two percent.”

According to the National Skills Coalition, 58 percent of all Kentucky jobs in 2015 were middle-skill, meaning they require less that a 4-year college degree.

Tilley says the task force is about removing barriers to find individuals to fill those jobs, many of whom have been incarcerated, are disabled, or suffer from various forms of mental illness.

“If we don’t provide the proper training and remove the barriers that exist for a number of these folks in different ways, then we’ll not see the results that we like,” Tilley said. “So, the task force is about linking all of these groups together and making sure that we’re doing all we can to make that a reality.”

Tilley says another objective of the task force is to let small businesses around the state know of the workforce programs where they can connect with prospective employees.

“Those who have huge HR departments can easily navigate some of these issues with criminal records, disabilities, but three quarters of those jobs come from small businesses and those businesses may not have those expansive HR departments, so we need to assist them, to make them aware of programs so they can force multiply what’s already out there for them without taking on any additional expense,” Tilley said.

Another challenge is getting businesses on board with the thought that just because a person has been incarcerated, doesn’t necessarily mean that they wouldn’t make a good employee.

“Not all felonies are created equal,” Tilley said. “It’s reducing barriers and giving that employer information to look at that particular individual differently. Maybe it’s a low level drug crime and that person has been clean and sober for five years, 10 years. If you give that person some time, and they’re proven to stay out of any additional trouble, then we should be able to tell employers, you know what, you’ve got a pretty safe bet there.”

One of the barriers for released inmates to obtaining meaningful employment is having a felony on their record.

The state legislature has passed some expungement legislation such as House Bill 40 in 2016, but Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, is working on legislation to expunge the records of some other non-violent felons, who would not be covered under HB 40, including many low-level drug offenders.

“I’d like to do a bill which selects additional felonies that they would be expungable after a 10-year wait and some a little bit more serious Class D felonies maybe after a 20-year wait,” Higdon said. “I think a lot of drug offenses are in that category.”

The Kentucky Work Matters Task Force plans to meet monthly for the rest of 2017 and will submit a report of their recommendations in December.


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