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Post-Release Pathways: Partnerships Making Job Ladders Attainable for Returning Citizens

By Karen Dybis

Statistics tell the first part of the story: 48% of incarcerated people who participate in college-education programs while in prison are less likely to recidivate, or engage in criminal activity again. For Todd Cioffi, director of the Calvin Prison Initiative, personal experience brings those statistics to life.

Cioffi works side by side with Calvin professors and inmates at Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia on this unique initiative, which takes 20 male inmates annually from around Michigan and puts them through a five-year, fully accredited college degree program. In fact, the program now employs one of CPI’s graduates, Cioffi said.

“You not only have a guy who has skills, but you also have a guy who thinks differently. He believes in his own capabilities,” Cioffi said. “I would hire any of these guys in a heartbeat. They will be the best employees anybody has had because they take the work seriously.”

The story continues with post-secondary degree achievement and into a job. Across Michigan, employers from Henry Ford Health System to DTE to Bank of America are partnering with the state’s Department of Corrections and facilities to ensure inmates have opportunities to learn, get advice and find job opportunities as well as a career path for years to come.

Michigan’s efforts to establish educational tracks and sustainable employment for formerly incarcerated people is ongoing and should be lauded, said Margaret diZerega, Director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections for the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based organization that seeks to end mass incarceration and strengthen the prospects of returning citizens.

“It’s about helping prepare people for success post-release,” diZerega said. “An estimated 65% of jobs require some training beyond high school. We need to make sure people leaving (prison) are prepared for those positions.”

That assistance into Michigan’s talent pipeline extends past the prison door. At Henry Ford Health System, supporting formerly incarcerated job candidates means working with them during the hiring process, on-the-job education as well as developing one-of-a-kind programs that reduce barriers to employment, said Jan Harrington-Davis, Vice President of Talent Acquisition, EEO Diversity and Workforce Solutions.

“This effort is important because a large population of Detroiters do have criminal backgrounds,” Harrington-Davis said. “We’ve focused intentionally on recruiting from the city of Detroit into our hospital, so we wanted to attract them into our system and determine how to retain them once they’re here.”

It started with 2015’s policy of “banning the box,” or eliminating the requirement that job applicants state whether they have been convicted of a felony. It wasn’t the conviction that barred people from employment, Harrington-Davis said, but the falsification of information. (HFHS does require consent to check after a job offer has been made.)

In October, the health system raised hourly compensation to $15 per hour for all team members, becoming among the first in Michigan to do so. Harrington-Davis also is solving issues such as access to childcare and transportation while offering paid apprenticeship programs with job guarantees when completed.

“We want to create a pathway,” Harrington-Davis said.

Karen Dybis is a freelance writer in Metro Detroit.

The Chamber and Returning Citizens

The Detroit Regional Chamber has a long-running push to knock down barriers to employment, including for returning citizens. Its advocacy team has led the way on key corrections reforms that help reduce recidivism rates. This year, the Chamber successfully advocated for the Clean State expungement legislation, which was signed into law in October. The Chamber continues to support bills moving through the Legislature that make it easier for non-violent offenders to find employment upon release.