Community learns about importance of hiring ex-offenders

Working is part of the reentry process

WINCHESTER, Va. - On Tuesday, community leaders and local employers gathered at the George Washington Hotel in Winchester to learn about the benefits of hiring employees with a criminal record.

"What history has shown us is that a returning citizen who has a job is less likely to return to crime," said Lauren Cummings, executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition.

Cummings attended the forum, put on by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Council on Reentry, which had one main focus.

"There are so many incentives for employers to actually hire folks who are returning citizens from jail," Cummings said.

Speakers highlighted one of the main incentives for employers to hire someone with a criminal record is protection from the Virginia Bonding program.

The ex-offender signs up for the program, then the bond is issued in $5,000 increments over six months to protect against things like theft and fraud.

According to the Virginia Department of Corrections, "employers view these [ex-offenders] as being at-risk and potentially untrustworthy workers. As a result, these job seekers are routinely denied employment."

The DOC goes on to say that out of the over 42,000 people with criminal records who have been part of the national bonding program, only 460 have had their bonds cashed in by employers for dishonest behavior.

Cummings said she was impressed to learn that no bonds in Virginia have been cashed in. 

"What that tells us is that this is a very successful program. These are individuals who are entering the work force. They are fantastic workers most of the time and they are not actually committing crimes during their employment."

But it's not just employers who could benefit from hiring someone with a criminal record. Hiring an ex-offender could save the jail and prison system money, and studies show it could also increase economic productivity.

For example, the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center in Winchester spends between $12 and $80 a day on inmate care and many of the inmates are repeat offenders.

A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates the number of those ex-offenders who got out of jail or prison but weren't hired in 2008 cost the U.S. Economy between $57 and 65 billion dollars in lost output.

"A lot of times, we'll have somebody who's 29, 30 years old, who's committed a crime when they were 18 years old, but they've come a long way. So, take it on a case-by-case basis, rather than just making a blanket statement saying 'our policy is we're not hiring anyone who has a criminal history," Cummings said.

To find out more about Virginia's Bonding program, click here. 

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