Ex-Prisoners Could be the Answer to the Workforce Shortage

Over 2.2 million people are behind bars in the US. More than 620,000 of those inmates are released on a yearly basis.

That’s more than 600,000 potential employees joining or rejoining the workforce each year.

RenĂ©e Cooper talks about the gap between those released, and those able to get a job when they’re released.

Almost half of ex-prisoners have no reported earnings in the first several years after leaving prison.

A new nationwide study from the Brookings Institute, says that those who do find work, earn less than 11,000 dollars a year, well below the poverty line even for a single person household.

I spoke with a few inmates at Missouri River Correctional Center who are determined to hold down a job once they leave the facility, no matter how the cards are stacked against them. 

MRCC inmate Gerardo Garza says, “It’s hard for us, because we get labeled by society, and it can be some levels of discrimination and race; for the simple fact of who we associate with and what we’re about.”

Garza has spent several of his 36 years locked up, but he’s looking forward to qualifying for a work release, which should come for him in January.

He adds, “Finding a job is not hard. If you want it, you’ll get it. It’s determination. 

The consensus I got from the group of inmates here is that they expect society to judge them, but they will not let it stop them from working to improve their own lives. 

Garza explains, “I know it’s hard to accept, but we’re not all the same. Some of us are actually trying to make it better for ourselves and for our families.”

DOCR Workforce Resource Coordinator Mandy Herberholz adds, “Not only does it pay the bills, but it helps hold them accountable.”

4,200 people are currently behind bars in North Dakota. 

Herberholz shares, “Governor Burgum estimated 14,000 jobs open in our state. I mean, just within our institutions alone, we have close to 2,000 individuals. So that right there, is an untapped workforce that could be utilized.”

Herberholz says to remember those being released will once again be tax-paying citizens and are valuable to our community, and to our work force.

Brian Muzzy is finishing up a 20-year sentence.  

The MRCC inmate adds, “It’s been a long road, but it’s over with now.”

He told me, if he’s given the chance, he will prove himself on a job site.

Muzzy explains, “As felons, we have to work harder than everybody else. I walk on the job site, I have a black mark on my name already, as opposed the guy that does not. So I feel I’ve got to try harder than him, be a little more dependable than him.”

He hopes employers can look at himself and other inmates as fellow humans, who have made mistakes and paid their debts.

Muzzy promised me the sentence he is currently finishing up will be his first and last time in prison. 

I also spoke with a co-founder of AnyLeaks: a Mandan business that not only hires felons, but works hard to give hope to those about to leave the prison system. AnyLeaks assures them they can get hired if they put their minds to it. 

He told me, he believes we can even reduce crime by ensuring those who have their biggest mistakes behind them, can regain their lives like anyone else.

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