• July 23, 2014

Finding work may be hard for felons, but employment opportunities exist

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Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2014 4:30 am

For felons and others with criminal backgrounds, finding employment can be difficult, but opportunities exist for former inmates who want to work.

“From a public policy standpoint, these people need to be employed,” said Todd Jermstad, community supervision and corrections division department director for Bell and Lampasas counties. “If they are not employed, it is a huge drag on our system.”

Often people who are on probation have court fines to pay as well as restitution

for the crimes they committed, Jermstad said. They also need to take care of their families, taxes and other bills.

“If you don’t have a job or go back to prison, you can’t meet family obligations,” said Jerry Haisler, Central Texas Workforce Centers director.

Sending people back to prison increases jail system costs and could cause families to seek government assistance, Haisler said.

Working also keeps people busy, so they are not thinking about or participating in the activities that got them incarcerated. Many people try to be good, productive residents after serving their punishments, Jermstad said.

“If we don’t give these folks a chance and give them gainful employment, they are going to revert back to criminal activity,” Haisler said.

Workforce Solutions of Central Texas in Killeen helps about 8,000 people every month find employment, While there is no direct way to track people with felony records who use the center, a “significant number” of people admit to having a some form of criminal background, Haisler said. The workforce center works with those people to teach them how to communicate with potential employers about their histories.

Goodwill helps felons learn job and communication skills, Jermstad said.

While people with felony records are often limited when searching for jobs, some industries, such as fast-food restaurants, are more prone to hiring than others.

Men often are hired in the construction field, and women can often find work in home health care and nursing homes. However, several of those businesses provide low wages and have high turnover rates, Jermstad said.

The business demographics of an area can affect job searches.

Temple has more industrial jobs than Killeen, so felons can more easily find work there.

In the past, Army contracting jobs were good hiring opportunities for felons, but federal budget cuts have affected the availability of positions in that field.

Often, employers who hire felons are people who know someone in prison — either themselves, family members or friends, Haisler said. Those employers are more willing to give a person a second chance. Fidelity bonds and work opportunity tax credits through the Texas Workforce Commission are available to businesses that hire felons. The bonds help protect employers against employee acts of dishonesty such as larceny, embezzlement and theft.

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